Mia Hansen-Love’s dance music-fueled drama Eden is an intimate film. First off, it positions the viewer as part of the story, placing you in the middle of the action. Second, the fictionalized depiction of the early days and evolution of the “French touch” sound of electronic music in the mid-1990s, is a story inspired by the musical aspirations of her younger brother, Sven, who chased the dragon of becoming a DJ and also co-wrote the script.
A tale of a young man on the journey to find musical success, the story follows Paul (Felix de Givry) over the course of almost twenty years. He hangs around clubs, forms a duo, 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—in fact, it is easy to forget that it isn’t—in that it’s a film that attempts to show and 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 isn’t able to completely avoid them either. The era’s of Paul’s life are, more than success or failure professionally, defined and set apart by his romantic relationships, including a tryst with Greta Gerwig’s American ex-pat, 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 is an attempt to be true to life, there are ups and down, triumphs and losses, but all of this is shown as they unfold in the real world. A big career success, or what feels like a horrific defeat at the moment, is rarely the end of the story, and that is how they are portrayed here. For the most part, Hansen-Love and company are successful in this endeavor, but the film does, admittedly, go on fifteen or so minutes too long.
Still, for the 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 (techno that’s “like house, but more disco”—I’m not entirely sure what that means either), the music does add a propulsive element to the film that keeps you moving forward, even as Paul’s emotional journey does fall into a familiar repetitive pattern that is easy to predict—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, constant resistance to growing up, which makes his ultimate transition from idealistic youth—well beyond the normal expected societal bounds as he is trapped in a perpetual state of post adolescence—to resigned, realistic adult, that much more jarring.
Overall, Eden comes across as painful, pessimistic look at the process of maturing and adapting to a changing world, especially when it involves changes you don’t want. 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 it is naiveté, as you probably guessed, causes similar conflicts on the professional side of his 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. Not only does this set off the raucous nightlife with the more personal elements, they illustrate 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. There are moments of ecstatic celebration as well as those of depression, despair, and sadness, almost in equal measure. Hansen-Love renders these two decades of the evolution of French house music as an ambitious, realistic look at a specific era in the life of both her main character and a musical genre. [Grade: B-]