Two decades in the life, and nightlife, of Paul (de Givry), as he thrives as a DJ on the Parisian party scene and struggles in love.
Based on the life of her older brother Sven, one of the key players during the rise of the ’90s ‘French Touch’ electronic music scene, Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest film plays out in that bleary, filtered dawn-light where fiction and reality become blurred. On the one hand, Sven (who co-wrote the script) is renamed Paul, cast in the soulful-eyed form of upcomer Félix de Givry, and you wonder how many in his long series of girlfriends (including Greta Gerwig, as his American fling) are pure creation. On the other, Paul’s club night (Cheers) and musical taste (Chicago Garage) remain unchanged, there are real-life cameos from the likes of House DJ Terry Hunter, and Sven’s pals Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo appear as characters. You might know them better as Daft Punk.
It’s entirely the right approach. Driven by character yet touched by life itself, Eden both provides near-documentarian insight into a vibrant subculture and has the emotive heft of a well-crafted romance. It’s also rich in humour (check out the Showgirls monologue) and drenched in pathos. Plus, crucially, it understands the music. Hansen-Løve’s skill shines through moments that in clumsier hands could have turned cheesy, but here are deeply poignant and joyful. One sees teen Paul asking his pianist younger sister to figure out the notes to the hands-in-the-air riff of Liquid’s ’91 floor-filler Sweet Harmony. Another finds him years later, in the studio, indecisively trying to pinpoint the ideal synthesised bass beat for a tune he’s writing. Then there’s the house-party sequence set in 1995, when his unassuming friends Thomas and Guy-Manuel (Vincent Lacoste and Arnaud Azoulay) spin their epochal Da Funk for the first time. “It’s amazing. It’s modern disco,” Paul observes.
If these moments didn’t work, then neither would those concerning the messy matters of Paul’s heart — not to mention his bank balance. His success as a DJ proves there’s two sides to every record. Despite insisting early on to his dismissive mother that you can earn a living at the decks, his life becomes trapped in a loop — like a killer sample playing over and over in one of his tunes. He could become unlikable and irritating, but there’s so much tenderness and intimacy here you always feel for him. As Gerwig’s character observes with a mix of awe and pity when they reconnect in New York years after their split, “It’s crazy that you haven’t changed.”
It does skirt self-indulgence, and ends on a weirdly false-feeling and overly sentimental note, but for the most part the tone is carefully judged: Eden is inclusive, warm and personal, yet also somehow epic.
Partly the story of a music scene, but mostly the story of a man who realises that living the dream isnt always the best thing for your life. Vivid, immersive and blessed with a perfectly nostalgic soundtrack.