The first big musical moment in Eden, Mia Hansen-Løve’s fourth feature, sees fifteen-year-old Paul (the ageless Félix de Givry) talk to a DJ the morning after an underground party. The DJ is packing up his gear, the club is almost completely empty, and Paul asks about one song. He remembers it being light, with a whistle. The DJ nods, looks through his vinyl crate and pulls out a record. Hansen-Løve uses the well-worn close-up on the record needle going down, as with all films involving music, yet instantly shifts the tone through clever juxtaposition. As the Sueño Latino track plays, the wide shot that would usually encompass a boisterous party is filled with empty space. The DJ continues to pack up but Paul stands still next to the table, looking at the dance floor. He nods with the beat, the song is playing for him and him alone. The track continues to play as the credits appear, we cut to Paul and his friends walking along a riverside path, but as the song builds, it becomes apparent that the beat isn’t going to drop; when “EDEN” fades onto the screen we’re caught off guard. The song is a looping cycle with no great highs or lows. This, coupled with Paul’s isolation in the earlier frame, is a brilliant microcosm of the film as a whole, an impressive and suprisingly melancholy look at repetition in life, soundtracked by the recursive music of the French Touch scene.
Eden is divided into two parts, the first about Paul’s formative influences and youth, the second his need to accept adulthood, but despite this structure the film rejects the rise-and-fall narrative that accompanies most music biopics. The film is loosely based on the career of Sven Hansen-Løve, Mia’s brother, who co-wrote the film, in what must be one of the more interesting acts of self-flagellation in recent filmic memory. As we follow Paul over a 21-year timeline (1992-2013), his career and romantic problems stem from a short-sightedness that shields him from self-reflection and growth. It’s not just that being a DJ keeps him young, it’s that it blinds him. He’s not even thinking that big; early on he tells his mother that big DJs make a lot of money, yet when his version of success comes, he treats it day-to-day, a whirlwind trip to New York handled with a dangerous level of casualness, something that carries over into his relationships with women.
The ‘women of your life’ conceit is an easy crutch to rest on for films that ostensibly deal with the male ego, but, again Eden defies expectations. Paul’s relationships don’t fall apart because of single mistakes or hypermasculine gestures, it’s in small asides or glances, or in moments not captured by the camera lens. The pacing of the film reflects this, editor Marion Monnier not dwelling on the idea of closure; as the cuts mask a shift in time, we accept the new present, the new romance, the almost instant amnesia of previous love. What stings, then, is when the romance circles back. Much of Eden is about patterns of behaviour and repetition, tied in with Paul’s arrested development; when he sees the great loves of his life years later, there’s a sudden, heartbreaking sense of regret. The woman whose character arc is the most affecting is Louise, played brilliantly by Belgian actress Pauline Etienne, who we see with Paul when he’s in his late teens, but whose presence never quite fades from his life. At one point, after a fight with her, Paul says that “I love you more than I’ve loved anyone else,” only to have Louise respond, “Then why don’t you ever tell me that?” Eden rivals the recent Blue Is the Warmest Color in emotional potency, in addition to this central romantic throughline, we also see the doomed relationships with other impressive, interesting and nuanced female characters, played by Greta Gerwig, Golshifteh Farahani, Laura Smet and Léa Rougeron.1
Though set within a music scene, much of the film deals with the pursuit of art more broadly. The first section of the film sees the formation of a shambolic artistic collective, consisting of Paul and Stan (Hugo Conzelmann) as Paradise Garage-influenced DJ duo Cheers, their cartoonist friend Cyril (Roman Kolinka, looking like a young Alain Delon), Cyril’s girlfriend Anaïs (Zita Hanrot), and later, music journo-slash-club night organiser Arnaud (Vincent Macaigne). It makes for amusing viewing, the film in its ‘hangout movie’ stage, though it also ties in the idea of feverish pursuit or art as the medium of youth. As time in the film passes, Paul is the only one still wholly hanging on to the idea of music as career; as Stan manages to always be financially stable and start a family, Paul stumbles onwards.
The music selection on show in Eden is staggering in its scope and quality, making a case for the creation of a major award for music supervisors, because Raphael Hamburger should have one of them with her name engraved on it. To its credit, Eden doesn’t indict the world of DJ-ing or that music scene as some follied pursuit. There are some broadly conventional moments, such as a scene where a club owner asks them to think about playing some electro, but the very nature of this style music is imbued with the notion of history repeating; the first time Daft Punk play “Da Funk”, Cyril leans over to Louise and tells her the sound is “modern disco.”2 As has been written everywhere, there are actors playing Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, the duo sans helmets, in Eden. Hansen-Løve isn’t particularly interested in making them antagonists or counterpoints to Paul; they float through the film, mostly used for an endearing recurring gag.3 Four of their songs are used in the film, though, and each plays to great effect. Whilst “Da Funk” is the big scene, the most important track of theirs used in Eden, strangely enough, is an album cut from Random Access Memories, “Within”, which appears near the end and manages to perfectly complement Paul’s realisation of his wasted life.
Not every stylistic decision lands, though. The film clumsily deals with written text throughout; whether a letter, text message or poem, the decision to have the send read the contents via a messy splitscreen feels stilted, as does the spelling out of the poem at the end of the film. That said, all of these, in particular the Robert Creeley poem, is played with such an emotional earnestness that they don’t distract too much.
Ultimately, Eden is a film that eschews the expectations it seems to set up for itself. It’s not so much about music as it is the way artistic pursuits, if chased with the ignorance of youth, can often stunt us emotionally and experientially. It’s a wake-up call to the viewer, in the vein of Boyhood, as to how quickly life flies by, and the pain of regret and loneliness. Perhaps the message at the heart of the film isn’t put best by the Creeley poem but rather the Kings of Tomorrow track that plays late in the film, which tells us that “time keeps its own time.”
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