As was noted circa 2011’s Goodbye, First Love, Mia Hansen-Løve’s off-screen affiliation with Olivier Assayas has only strengthened the profound yet delicately worn humanism the writer-director demonstrated in 2009’s outstanding Father of My Children: she’s found not just a mentor but a mirror, and a stirring model for her own endeavours. In Eden, Hansen-Løve mounts the kind of intimate social history Assayas has mastered: it views the 1990s Parisian house scene as every bit as much a protective bubble for the young and artistically minded as Assayas did the student communes in 2012’s Something in the Air.
On one level, Eden functions as an overview broadly comparable to our own 24 Hour Party People – the French picked up EDM (electronic dance music) later, and ran with it further come the new millennium – yet it’s sustained by Hansen-Løve’s ability to hone in on the beats by which her lightly fictionalised characters progress from innocence to experience. It shows us the dancefloor pulsing with loved-up revellers, but it also spies the one heartbroken girl pushing through the throng with her mascara streaming. Everyone has their reasons, and their rhythms.
Its centre is Paul (Félix de Givry), a would-be superstar DJ whose insatiable love of all things American manifests itself in both the name he attaches to his first club night (Cheers) and his fling with a visiting new-yorkaise (Greta Gerwig, remixing Frances Ha); he remains blind, for the best part of his twenties, to the affection retained for him closer to home by best friend Louise (Pauline Etienne).
Yet the camera – and the narrative – keeps drifting off in pursuit of alternative perspectives. Hansen-Løve senses the frustration of a scene elder (talismanic roue Vincent Macaigne) who’s shown his chums Showgirls three times without, in his eyes, anyone appreciating its vision of American vulgarity; a similar emotion is noted on the face of a bit-part waiter when these party kids enter his bar after hours to bombard him with orders.
Much of Eden is, in this way, buoyantly upbeat, even comic: on the fringes of this scene, we keep running into two sheepish types named Thomas and Guy-Manu, who only seem confident when dropping their latest tune – you’ll know them as Daft Punk, and Eden is the film that, in its roundabout way, explains both why the pair took to wearing helmets in public, and how a tune as revivifying as “Get Lucky” gestated. (Macaigne’s character is sent to interview Nile Rodgers at one point, which is a clue.)
Yet Hansen-Løve never backs away from playing the trickier, more affecting notes. Even when the film relocates to Chicago – so Paul can court producers into handing over fresh tracks – we’re aware this leaves one of the protagonist’s pals back home, fighting a losing battle with depression. Escapist nocturnal highs only last so long; reality – sometimes harsh, often banal, once or twice tragic – always returns to seize the day.
As its A-side/B-side intertitles (“Paradise Garage”/”Lost in Music”) hint, this is to some degree a familiar story, one in which youthful passion and idealism come to be compromised by business pressures, hangers-on and other exigencies of the adult world. Yet Hansen-Løve never stresses this overriding structure, instead riding the waves of mood.
In an interview, Paul describes his favourite music as existing “somewhere between euphoria and melancholia”, and much of Eden is suspended between these two poles: on one side, the heightened BPM of the soundtrack, a lovingly curated mix CD; on the other, the more ruminative time scheme of Paul’s early adult life. Hansen-Løve moves us in both senses of the word: she’s like a DJ spinning Ten City’s “That’s the Way Love Is”, and trying to pinpoint the sweet spots in that bittersweet house classic where chorus meets comedown.
In Eden’s opening scene, the teenage Paul breaks away from the crowd returning from a rural all-nighter to sit alone in reflection under a tree in an atmospherically foggy field. There is, indeed, something in the air here: at dawn, he vows out loud to record everything he’s seen and heard over the course of this formative evening. Few recent films have so generously and magnificently depicted the ways in which we come to fill the silence.
(MovieMail, July 2015)
Eden screens on Channel 4 tomorrow night at 12.15am.