Mia Hansen-Love’s dance music-fueled drama Eden is an intimate film. A fictionalized depiction of the early days and evolution of the “French touch” sound of electronic music in the mid-1990s, the story is inspired by her younger brother, Sven, who dreamed of becoming a DJ and also co-wrote the script.
The narrative follows Paul (Felix de Givry), a young man who aspires to musical glory, over the course of almost 20 years. He hangs around clubs, gains notoriety, has relationships, screws up relationships, is a success, is a failure, borrows money, does a lot of blow, and learns more than a few important life lessons along the way.
Eden feels like a biopic—it’s easy to forget it isn’t—in that it attempts to examine almost an entire life over the course of its run time. While Hansen-Love’s film never completely falls into the traps of similar films that cover such an extended timespan, it can’t completely avoid them either. The eras of Paul’s life are, more than professional success or failure, defined and set apart by his romantic relationships, including a tryst with Greta Gerwig’s American expat, Julia, and an on-again-off-again affair that pops up from time to time with Pauline Etienne’s Louise.
In the way Eden follows Paul, it aims to be true to life; a big career triumph, or what feels like a horrific defeat at the moment, is rarely the end of the story. For the most part, Hansen-Love and company succeed in this endeavor, but the film goes on 15 or so minutes too long.
Still, for its pacing issues, Eden is compulsively watchable. Paul is a compelling protagonist to follow through his highs and lows, and de Givry delivers a subtle, nuanced performance. Regardless if you’re a fan of garage music (techno that’s “like house, but more disco”—I’m not entirely sure what that means either), the music adds a propulsive element to the film that moves it forward, even as Paul’s emotional journey falls into a familiar, repetitive pattern—he meets a girl, his career is going well, he screws it all up.
Paul barely appears to age onscreen, physically or emotionally. Hansen-Love employs this as a kind of visual metaphor for her main character’s staunch resistance to growing up, which makes his ultimate transition from idealistic youth—well beyond the expected societal bounds, as he’s trapped in a perpetual state of post adolescence—to resigned, realistic adult that much more jarring.
Overall, Eden comes across as a painful, pessimistic look at the process of maturing and adapting to a changing world, especially when those changes are unwanted. Not only does Paul refuse to follow the traditional norms of growing up, which leads to a number of issues in his personal life, he rejects the always shifting musical landscape around him, unwilling to adapt as new styles and sounds come to prominence. This stubbornness, or perhaps naiveté, predictably causes conflicts in his professional life.
As much as Eden is about music, aesthetically it is about noise versus silence. Club scenes full of pulsing beats, electronic squeals and heavy ambiance are juxtaposed with delicate moments of near total silence. Hansen-Love’s approach sets off the raucous nightlife with the more personal elements, and illustrates the gulf between Paul and Louise and everyone else around him as they move on with their lives while he, again, does not.
At one point, Paul describes his music as falling somewhere between euphoria and melancholy, which is an apt metaphor for Eden as a whole. Moments of ecstatic celebration meet with those of depression and despair, almost in equal measure. Hansen-Love renders these two decades of French house as an ambitious, realistic look at a specific era in the evolution of both her main character and a musical genre.
Director: Mia Hansen-Love
Writers: Mia Hansen-Love, Sven Hansen-Love
Starring: Felix de Givry, Pauline Etienne, Greta Gerwig
Release Date: June 19, 2015