Written by Mia Hansen-Løve and Sven Hansen-Løve
Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
The lights flesh hypnotically, the room is sweaty, everyone is rolling, and the song plays on and on, pounding so hard you think you’ll collapse from the vibrations from the sound waves. And yet, you feel completely alive. At least Paul (Félix de Givry) does, in Mia Hansen-Løve’s film Eden, which the rise and fall of a young up-and-coming DJ in Paris.
Few films sprawl like Hansen-Løve’s latest, which spans twenty years, surveying the landscape of garage, techno, and house music, bumping into the likes of Daft Punk. It’s a film that is packed with an incredibly energy, specifically through music, but what is critical about this idea is that the energy is attached to that music. It would be far more frivolous and forgetful were the energy to simply exist as the de facto atmosphere of the film, but Hansen-Løve understands the power of music in a singular manner. In one scene, Paul will be at a party or DJ-ing one, the music and the party’s attendants both turned up. She’ll cut to another scene after the party, and immediately there’s a sense of loss and melancholy. The energy doesn’t just dissipate, it disappears. The deflation of energy in a film is a dangerous thing to attempt and often regarded as a weakness, but since the film is very much about Paul and his connection to music, it’s crucial to understand that that is his escape. The film even names the second of its two “parts” “Lost in Music”. It understands that this escapism and submersion into one’s passion as a way to avoid life is a double-edged sword, only workable and usable up to a certain point before it becomes a risk itself.
Even if the energy is purposely absent,the director injects every scene with passion. The party scenes, of course, are a highlight. They act as both a survey and ‘history’ of sorts of the EDM genre, but more a paradise where inhibitions are lost but ambitions are found. Even if you’re not a club-going person, it’s hard to deny the fun vigor of the club scenes, which feel full of life. Perfectly capturing the mesmerizing lighting of the dance floor, these scenes become a drug in themselves, totally intoxicating. Lurid reds, neon blues and bright flashes fill the frame, as bodies both as a mass and as an abstraction exist in the space. It becomes a form of living vicariously.
But, as one can expect, it’s not all fun and parties. Eden‘s narrative thrust comes from Paul, who, on paper, is an archetypal man-child: irresponsible, a bit drug-addled, always in debt. To be completely reductive, Eden follows Paul for over two hours as he makes mistakes. An acquaintance commented after the film, “If this were American, I would probably hate it.” It’s true, Paul should be ostensibly an insufferable character. Watching him not take responsibility for anything in his life except his music should be a chore. Yet, Hansen-Løve doles out nuance and fined texture to the character carefully, subtly, and powerfully. As full of life as the club scenes are, when the camera finds Paul there’s a duality to the scene’s emotions: you can tell that this is Paul’s safe haven, but you can also tell that he is consciously escaping something. There’s a carefully orchestrated emptiness in that emotion. And every traditionally narrative-based scene that bridges from party to party acts as discreet but precise visual exposition. We come to understand, at least partly, what makes Paul tick and that unattainable goal he keeps reaching for. This is certainly aided by Félix de Givry’s outstanding performance, an actor who straddles the line between dorky and impressively attractive, exactly what Paul as a character needs. The childishness is both endearing and annoying, but it’s that superficial attractiveness which lets him get away with certain things.
“It’s amazing, you haven’t changed,” Julia (the delightful and always welcome Greta Gerwig) tells him at an impromptu reunion in New York. And true this is, both metaphorically and literally: Paul pretty much looks the same from the start of the film to its conclusion twenty years later (give or take). And for the majority of Eden, his personality remains the same: he makes the same mistakes, he doesn’t seem to get much wiser with regard to the music industry, and he continues to go through girlfriends with seemingly little avail. While some may argue that Eden is unnecessarily drawn-out, its very nature being so “long” is part of its point. Not unlike Frances Ha (which starred a luminous and equally foolhardy Gerwig), it’s about the process of coming of age and not the arrival itself. It takes longer for Paul to mature, to reach that point in his life where he has to do something different, but the journey is altogether enthralling. It’s filled with music, with every beat, rhythm and scratch making a near perfect composition.
– Kyle Turner