Broad Green Pictures
Eden is a film about passion, at least at first. It’s about youth and the thrill of finding community in art, the music that takes over your soul. It’s about dancing, drugs, and sex. It’s Almost Famous and Finding Llewyn Davis, sort of. By the time it ends it’s covered over two decades of dreams and successes, setbacks and failures, all of the above and nothing at all.
Mia Hansen-Love’s fourth feature begins in the early 1990s. A French teenager named Paul (Felix de Givry) and his friends are on the cusp of falling deeply in love with garage, the genre of electronic dance music that grew up at Paradise Garage in New York City. These are early days, with raves held in caves and disused submarines hanging around the French countryside. Paul has a moment of revelation under some trees in the early dawn, his post-concert gray haze interrupted by a bright orange bird, animated into the frame like something out of Mary Poppins. This technique doesn’t come back, but it doesn’t have to. Hansen-Love lets us know from the beginning that for Paul, music is magic (and possibly hallucination).
Eden chronicles the subsequent two decades of his life. He teams up with his friend Stan (Hugo Conzelmann) to form a DJ duo and they attempt to take the Parisian club scene by storm. He spends time on the radio, makes friends with Daft Punk before their meteoric rise to fame, and goes to a lot of drug-addled shows. A great deal of this could be tired, given how frequently musician films follow the same path of success, addiction, and destruction. Eden avoids that in two ways. The first is simply the strength of the performances.
De Givry projects a distracted authenticity that couples beautifully with the more defined souls around him. Longtime on-and-off girlfriend Louise (Pauline Etienne) is a particular highlight, her subtler character arc a breath of fresh air in a film full of men in various states of arrested development. The panoply of side characters allow Hansen-Love to build Paul’s identity up against a wide variety of foils, as well as create the sense of a full world beyond the borders of this single life.
The contribution of Greta Gerwig as an early liaison and later as an alternate version of adulthood, married to a buttoned-up American played by Brady Corbet, seems at first like a gimmicky cross-pollination of international independent cinema but eventually becomes an intriguing commentary on the experience of growing up. The most impressive turn might be that of Roman Kolinka, whose dark portrayal of Paul’s brooding designer friend Cyril is a crucial turning point in the film.
Hansen-Love’s other trump card is the way that she uses time. Elision is perhaps the most signature element of her directorial style, going all the way back to her first feature, 2007’s All Is Forgiven. Eden’s script does cover over 20 years, but not in the most intuitive of linear paths. Important events are left out, elided because they are unnecessary. Every film does this, of course, skipping the boring details. What makes Eden different is that it consciously leaves out things like major break-ups, the births of children, crisis of employment and sanity. Each shot feels all the more deliberate, each scene underscored in importance by the absence of other, less interesting but more traditionally crucial moments.
It is also a stealthy way to build character, forcing the audience to do a little extra work in understanding who these people are and have become. While the result of these jumps ahead in narrative might initially confuse, they provoke us to rethink who Paul is and why he made the decisions we may not have seen. Nothing ever feels forced into the plot, every hidden breakup or crisis feels natural even though it isn’t played out on screen. The only setback is that sometimes it can seem as if Eden may never end, which can be taxing in the second half of its 131-minute running time. Still, this is another confirmation of Hansen-Love’s narrative gifts, her sense of character and her organic approach to representing full lives.
The Upside: This imagined history of French electronic dance music uses a flighty narrative style to build and transform a cast of layered, beautiful characters.
The Downside: Hansen-Love’s loose approach to narrative occasionally leaves the viewer adrift, especially in the film’s last act.
On the Side: Eden is loosely based on the experience of Sven Hansen-Love, Mia Hansen-Love’s DJ brother.
Related Topics: NYFF