Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden explores Parisian dance music culture through the rise and fall of the French Touch movement with great skill and minimal melodrama – an authentic depiction of a paradise lost. Delivering a performance that suits the film’s style perfectly, Félix de Givry plays Paul, a DJ inspired by the career of the director’s brother, Sven Hansen-Løve. His descent is saddening, but it is difficult not to get caught up in the exhilaration when he first deciphers the chords of Liquid’s Sweet Harmony. With a magnificent soundtrack which includes Frankie Knuckles, MK and, of course Daft Punk, Eden is not about people for people’s sake, it is about the music.
Hansen-Løve’s naturalistic approach to cinema is clear throughout, and storytelling is sometimes more restrained and distant than audiences may desire. The viewer is always just that little bit too far from events to experience the full force of the characters’ joy and pain, but this reserved realism is both intentional and effective. At over 130 minutes, its not difficult to argue that the film could be half an hour shorter: many of Paul’s drug-fuelled parties are repetitive. Whether all audiences will appreciate it is a directorial risk, but the very point is that viewers tire of Paul’s lifestyle at the same time he does.
When judged by the mainstream cinematography textbook, the film makes countless mistakes, not least the regular disappearance of characters. Crucially though, these techniques are all incredibly successful at achieving the desired effect, proving Mia Hansen-Løve’s worth as a unique and evocative filmmaker. Spanning two decades, the meandering story and uneven time intervals are confusing at times, but the effect of this is vital to Hansen-Løve’s authentic presentation of the past. Just as the human mind doesn’t dedicate equal importance to all memories, the film dedicates tens of minutes to a particular day then skips five years in a heartbeat. It becomes quickly clear that Eden is not just telling a story, but rather recalling a period which was of very real importance to very real people, the director and her brother included. True-to-style, however, Hansen-Løve makes an impressive effort to remain distant and slightly cold towards what is clearly a very personal story. Sven, too, made it clear: melancholy, but not nostalgia – “nostalgia is too negative”. The director has no time for wistful regret.
THE MUSIC IS THE FILM’S PROTAGONIST AND DRIVING FORCE FOR AS LONG AS THE GOING IS GOOD, SHIFTING FOCUS TO PAUL’S PERSONAL FALL FROM GRACE ONLY ONCE HIS PASSION HAS OUTLIVED THE SCENE.
However, an anxious uncertainty is present throughout, and Paul’s success is never audacious or overplayed, even at its peak. Foreboding uneasiness like the intermittent reluctance of the eventually-suicidal Cyril (Roman Kolinka) always rumble beneath. The most interesting idea revealed by this writer’s pre-screening interview with Sven was the origin of the name ‘Eden’: the French House scene’s role as a paradise lost and its awareness of it’s own inevitable death from as early as 1992. Suddenly, all these aspects fall into place.
There is no despondent string quartet to accompany the moment when Cheers [Paul’s DJ outfit] are forced to face the commercialisation of the club industry. The duo’s belief in their music, and determination to host parties for fellow enthusiasts without interest in financial gain, is enough to evoke the audience’s sympathy. Yet Hansen-Løve’s trademark detachment is cemented by the humour in the dissatisfied club manager’s mention of David Guetta, infamously demonised as the Parisian scene’s biggest sell-out.
The presentation of the many nightclub scenes is also a progressive step away from convention. Throughout Cheers’ success, cinematic focus is on the music. Not on the venue; not on the lights; and interestingly for a film based on her brother’s experiences, not on the DJ. Drug abuse is central to Paul’s demise, but the film avoids clichés like groggy POV stumbling. The viewer remains, as ever, at a distance. Hansen-Løve has said throughout the film’s publicity interviews that she wanted the music to be a character of its own in the film, and she has achieved this masterfully. Paul’s understated character ensures that the music is the film’s protagonist and driving force for as long as the going is good, shifting focus to his personal fall from grace only once his passion has outlived the scene.
His faith in the music he loves is too unwavering for him to succeed in the increasingly commercialised market. Quite why Daft Punk gained international fame while Paul’s career burns out is never truly explained, but this uncertainty highlights the fickleness of the music industry. Hansen-Løve also aptly includes Daft Punk (portrayed by Vincent Lacoste and Arnaud Azoulay) without allowing the “size” of the duo’s very mention to cannibalise the film. Eden successfully chart’s the duo’s rise to commercial success whilst remaining respectful of their genuine talent.
Yet even this is intelligently nuanced. Whilst Thomas and Guy-Man’s repeated, running-joke rejection from guest lists when presenting themselves under their own names might begin because it is the music – not the people – that matters, it endures because these two people have become a brand. Daft Punk’s cooperation – licensing their music to the soundtrack for a negligible fee and even reading over the script – was vital to the project’s completion, and the film gives them precisely the right role, without losing its perpetual focus on the music.
At the height of his success, Paul is reunited with an American ex-girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) who tells him it is crazy that he hasn’t changed in so many years. As long as he believes that the music is with him, Paul remains the passionate, respectful and modest DJ he was when he made his first foray into clubbing. As soon as this is pulled from beneath him, his own personal collapse is inevitable. His desperate need for Louise (Pauline Etienne) grows, having outright rejected her advances at the start of his career. This is the kind of subtle character development that Hansen-Løve excels at, made all the more powerful by Paul’s efforts to disguise his increasingly evident disappointment. It is unclear exactly when he realises the end is nigh, but it is deeply saddening to watch him continue pretending, playing records at empty hotel poolsides in an attempt to earn enough to survive.
The music is always in the spotlight in Mia Hansen-Løve’s heartfelt film, and her unique style could not be more suited to telling Eden’s story with authenticity. Whether the eponymous paradise lost refers to youth itself, the Parisian scene, or Paul’s career is left for audiences to decide.
Words by Andrei Sandu