Charting the hopes and dreams of her DJ brother Sven, Mia Hansen-Løve’s celebration of French house music Eden might be leading us up the garden path.
The Boulevard Of Broken Dreamsby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Much like her husband Oliver Assayas’ Something In The Air, Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden offers a nostalgic look at a Paris of the past, this time the ’90s through the lens of her brother Sven, who is here credited as co-writer and soundtrack adviser, but was then a successful DJ in the French garage scene, nicknamed French Touch. The director’s story finds a place in the hero’s teenage sister, working out the notes on the piano for her elder brother in his quest for a winning track. And it’s a strange feat that Eden performs, infused at once with all the personal nostalgia of an autobiography and yet through somebody else’s story. Above all though, Hansen-Løve’s latest film is a hymn to music and that brief moment when Paris took centre-stage in the electronic dance music movement.
It’s 1992, and high-school student Paul (Félix de Givry) is at a party on a boat on the outskirts of Paris, but rather than hooking up and getting (overly) drunk, he’s listening to the music. And it’s a new sound – house music. And after sneaking out of the house and hitting the clubs with his friends (and future Daft Punk duo Thomas and Guy-Man), he and Quentin (Hugo Bienvenu) soon decide to give DJing a try themselves. Three years later, and Paul, now an absent student, is making it big with his garage duo Cheers and is head over heels in love with American wannabe writer Julia (Greta Gerwig). Until that is she breaks up with him and heads home to New York. Paul goes to a party where Daft Punk play their debut single for the first time, and where he meets Louise (Pauline Etienne). Two years later, Cheers has made it big – they’re playing in Paris’ biggest clubs, with girls and coke, and slowly Paul and Louise get together.
There’s a moment in Eden when schoolboy Paul is roaming the woods on the outskirts of Paris on a misty dawn, collapsed at the foot of a tree, when he sees a mystical bird. It’s an animated bird of paradise, and for a film otherwise devoid of whimsy, it’s an otherworldly intrusion that’s neither repeated nor dwelled upon. But for a moment, it’s a flash of divine inspiration, as a meaning is bestowed on Paul. A vocation. To become a DJ. It’s a dream he follows through the highs and lows until finally, musical trends move on. And while Mia Hansen-Løve’s film brings the music of the era to life, with a hip soundtrack and musical set-pieces that share her brother’s fascination with music, Eden seems to mainly focus on the prolonged agony and ecstasy of dreaming.
It’s probably Paris’s fault, with its romantic boulevards and literary bent, luring would-be writers, filmmakers, poets and musicians from all over the world to its accursed shores. But while Julia sensibly gives up on dreaming, returning to New York to start a family – while also managing to get her short stories written on the banks of the Seine published – Paul is condemned to keep on dreaming. And it’s a bitter twist in the tail that, even when the music stops, Paul embarks on a new career as a writer.
Félix de Givry gives a quietly charming performance as Paul – with an astounding ability to span the years from adolescence to early thirties – while Greta Gerwig does her best with an underwritten role, seemingly left to her own devices for “quirky” and “gauche” but unable to excavate a character equal to her formidable Frances Ha. But with its strapline “Lost in music”, Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden really does lose its way in a beat-fuelled celebration of the past, leaving characterisation, pacing and intrigue waiting in line outside in the cold. And yet, steeped in the nostalgia of a lost paradise, Eden does at least make for a pretty cool purgatory.
Eden is released on 24th July 2015 in the UK