I have never been to a rave. The scene of a rave with its flashing lights, packed clubs, and thumping electronic music has never appealed to me. Even though I’ve never connected with electronic music or the party scene surrounding it doesn’t mean that I’m precluded from enjoying Eden, the latest film by Mia Hansen-Løve. Co-written by Mia Hansen-Løve and her brother Sven, Eden is a two-decade spanning epic of electronica, inspired by Sven’s life as a DJ in Paris through the early ‘90s to late ‘00s. The film is series of moments in the life of Sven’s semi-fictional character Paul Vallée, played throughout by Félix de Givry, moments of addiction, love, and love lost. Eden is a film that uses the backdrop of its subculture to explore universal human themes.
Eden opens in 1992, Paul with his friends Cyril (Roman Kolinka) and Stan (Hugo Conzelmann) are on their way to a rave. Before leaving for the party, Paul makes sure to say hi to Thomas Bangalter (Vincent Lacoste) and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (Arnaud Azoulay), members of a band called Darlin’, though they’d eventually form a little-known group called Daft Punk. The shadow of Daft Punk is immense over the film’s proceedings. The introduction presents Paul’s synthesized seduction into the world of electronic music, before long aspiring to form his own DJ duo. The film then flashes forward to 1995, Paul and Stan have formed Cheers, their DJ duo specializing in Garage, a form of Parisian techno. They’re making inroads in the scene, and forming their own little loose-knit community of artists.
As Paul finds himself embroiled in the world of electronic music, he finds himself dealing with other problems. Cyril is having a hard time coping with the chemical excess and his own inner-depression. Paul’s mother is constantly haranguing him to leave the scene and return to school. The romance he started with Julia (Greta Gerwig), an American exchange student, is reaching its conclusion as she is returning to the US. As the years go by and his presence in the scene grows, Paul has not seen his problems diminish as monetary problems and relationship issues follow him everywhere. Though his DJ’ing takes him to Chicago and New York, the lifestyle strains the lengthy, meaningful relationship Paul had with Louise (Pauline Etienne). The years continue on, marching well into the new millennium. Though still following his dream of being a successful DJ, Paul is slowly drowning in debt and watching former loves move on and start families. As his problems mount, Paul comes closer and closer to a breaking point.
As mentioned earlier, Daft Punk and their impact on the musical scene leaves a long shadow over the events of Eden. In a way, they serve as an example of where Paul would like to be, unrealistic that may be. They’re also never far from the film’s events, making an appearance at the beginning, middle, and end of this epic of electronica. There is one scene where the young duo plays one of their early hits at house party in ’95. It’s like seeing The Clash in a rinky-dink club. As someone with no real affection for electronic music, the noticeable improvement in quality between Daft Punk and the other music in the film is otherworldly.
For those who was embedded in the scene of electronic music in the era the film depicts, Eden is likely to be a far more affecting film than it was for myself. That being said, there’s a lot going on in this film that works incredibly well. Mia Hansen-Løve directs the nightclub segments with an intensity as if you’re there – music blaring, lights flashing, camera moving; you can’t really follow who’s who in the rhythmic crowd. Meanwhile, the story smoothly flows from each moment to the next, highlighting a slow deterioration of the drive and spirt behind Paul. The young Félix de Givry does incredible work aging beyond his years as the film unfolds and the timespan expands. Tales of flirtations with success and devolutions into addiction are something that can be found in almost any musical subculture, yet the film still avoids making itself a by-the-numbers type tale of seduction and despair against the backdrop of electronic music.
Eden is a very personal work about one man’s experiences deep within a movement, only to find that moment had passed and he was left behind. If the film does run a tad too long, there’s still enough energy and heart in Eden that softens the edges of its length. Presented in two parts, Eden is a film that flows like a certain kind of album – I’m thinking David Bowie’s Low – where the first side is a brave new sound and the second side features this downward turn into electronic despair. Don’t get me wrong, Low is a really good album just as Eden is a really good movie; I just don’t listen to Low all the way through that often.
Eden opens in select theaters June 19th, 2015.