Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden was my favourite film of 2015 (and if you have the time and the inclination you can read my first review of it here), so re-watching it has been high on my agenda since I picked up the special featureless-DVD the other week. I enjoyed it nearly as much the second time around – though this was at home rather than in a cinema – and I’ll reiterate that it’s great that dance music and club culture has finally received the kind of treatment it deserves (though I still admire Yolande Zauberman’s 1996 film Clubbed To Death). During this second viewing I was struck by Eden‘s structure once again. The story, which covers just over 20 years of the life of a DJ named Paul (Felix de Givry), builds to a euphoric crescendo at the middle, and the two halves of the film contrast by being upbeat and downbeat: the first hour is flush with youthful promise, and we see Paul and his friends attending raves, creating music and launching their own successful club nights; the second sees a downward trajectory as Paul, now in his 30s, struggles with debt and an addiction to cocaine, while his failure to change means he is left floundering as friends, girlfriends and club crowds desert him. In my review last year I said ‘the structure smartly brings to mind the sets played by more thoughtful DJs, the kind that Paul’s [garage house] hero Larry Levan was famous for creating in New York in the 1980s’, and I feel more certain now that this was Hansen-Løve’s intention, given the importance of this particular style of music and DJing to the main character and the direct references to Levan in the script. Of course you could argue Eden‘s also like an LP with two disparate sides, but we’re talking about a style of music that has rarely (if ever) successfully made the transition to long-form, i.e. the album, and I think the film-as-DJ-set theme works much better, personally.
Hansen-Løve repeats certain scenes to show the downturn in Paul’s fortune as well as the changing face of nightlife in Paris. When things are on the up we see the likes of Louise (Pauline Etienne) and Cyril (Roman Kolinka) blowing up balloons as the club night run by Paul and DJ partner Stan (Hugo Conzelmann) hits its peak; later, as a club owner asks the duo to try and attract a bigger crowd by playing more commercial hits, we see balloons being popped and a dancefloor being cleared; the metaphor couldn’t be clearer. In the first half of the film, when Stan and Paul bring singer Arnold Jarvis over from the US to sing at their weekly night Cheers, it goes smoothly and results in one of Eden‘s most euphoric scenes; in the second half the singer La India flies into Paris for the same reason, and sends herself up as a demanding diva, which in turn reveals how much Paul and Stan have become fed-up with running the club night for little or no profit. The two members of Daft Punk (played here by Arnaud Azoulay and Vincent Lacoste) show up regularly as a kind of 21st Century Charters and Caldicott, offering a hip and peculiarly Gallic strand of comic relief, but it’s interesting to compare the two scenes in which bouncers – rather amusingly – fail to recognise them and stop them from entering nightclubs: in the first instance, when they eventually enter the club it is packed, with the kind of sweaty, heaving dancefloor that makes gaining entry worthwhile; years later they are eventually let in to a half-empty basement bar, where Hansen-Løve subtly makes the point that cocktails, self-conscious posing and chilling out has become the norm, rather than shape-throwing and singing along with the words. And, lastly, there’s a nice switch with regard to the bank managers Paul visits to extend his overdraft; in the first half a man allows the DJ to increase his own debt; in the second half he’s replaced by a woman who instantly puts a structure in place that will force Paul to take control of his finances for the first time.
Of course there’s more to any film than it’s structure, but I’ve already stated several reasons why I like Eden in my first review, and don’t want to repeat them all here. I did, however, notice a few other touches the second time round. Though her part is small, Greta Gerwig’s character is far more important than her screen time suggests, given that she’s the girl who first breaks Paul’s heart as a teenager, and his actions during other relationships (particularly during his on-off love affair with Louise) are often informed by that rejection. I like the fact some of these end off screen when the narrative lurches forward by two or three years; a conventional drama would include the moment that Paul’s affair with Yasmin (Golshifteh Farahani) ends, for example, but here Hansen-Løve cuts from a scene in which it’s explained that Yasmin is clearing Paul’s apartment in the wake of his breakdown to a scene a couple of years later, when she has seemingly disappeared from his life. There’s no explanation as to what has happened. Similarly we never see the moment that Paul and Stan decide to go their separate ways after more than a decade of running parties and DJing together; instead, after a similar leap forward in time, we simply learn that Stan now has a child, and can assume the rest.
I’m not going to write much more, because as I ‘ve already said I’ve reviewed Eden once before, and it’s probably enough just to say here that the film is every bit as good as I remember it being (I had wondered, which I guess is natural). Hansen-Løve never lets it turn into a nostalgia fest – the scene in which a nervous Daft Punk drop Da Funk for the first time at a New Year’s Eve party aside – and the narrative subtly follows the rhythm of life through a period in time that I know well and subsequently identify with, which is certainly a factor in my love for it; I struggle to think of a film that is this perceptive about the shift from being in one’s 20s to being in ones’ 30s in the modern day, although Frances Ha dealt with a similar change in age, but within a much smaller timeframe. I like the music, and it’s clear the director – who co-wrote with DJ brother Sven – has a great feel for the club hits of the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s, while the various homages (New York, Chicago, the birthplaces of house and garage) are often incorporated subtly, and even the cameos by real-life DJs and singers add to the realistic tone. I also appreciate the way the story offers a mere hint of redemption for the main character at the end, ambiguously delivered via a Robert Creeley poem, this talented director ending the film with cinematic ellipsis …
… still my favourite release of 2015.
Directed by: Mia Hansen-Løve.
Written by: Mia Hansen-Løve, Sven Hansen-Løve.
Starring: Félix de Givry, Pauline Etienne, Vincent Macaigne, Roman Kolinka, Hugo Conzelmann, Zita Hanrot, Vincent Lacoste, Greta Gerwig, Arnaud Azoulsay, Golshifteh Farahani, Laura Smet.
Cinematography: Denis Lenoir.
Editing: Marion Monnier.
Running Time: 130 minutes.