Underground scene not all paradise for French DJ in ‘Eden’
Maybe the last thing someone might expect to come out of director Mia Hansen-Løve’s mouth is a paraphrase of Wooderson, the Lone Star ladies’ man played by Matthew McConaughey in Richard Linklater’s 1990s classic “Dazed and Confused.”
Like that ensemble comedy, set in the mid-1970s, Hansen-Løve’s “Eden” is a bit of pop-friendly social anthropology. “Dazed” follows a group of Texas teenagers on the last day of high school. The French filmmaker, instead, follows the rise, fall and rebirth of an underground Paris DJ through 20 years of the electronic music scene— made sensually vivid in a soundtrack pulsing with disco, house and garage tracks from Daft Punk, Frankie Knuckles, The Orb, Jay Smooth and others.
The character of the DJ, Paul (Félix de Givry), an innovator in the French house genre of the 1990s, was inspired by the director’s brother Sven, with whom she co-wrote the movie’s screenplay. “I was fascinated by the number of girls Sven had,” Hansen-Løve said, speaking last fall in an interview with her brother and de Givry as the film bowed at the New York Film Festival. “You couldn’t not realize that this way of living had to do with the fact that he was a DJ. You spend your nights at the clubs with the girls. You get older, but the girls get younger.”
Hansen-Løve, now 34, made her film debut at 17 acting in “Late August, Early September,” directed by her future husband, Olivier Assayas.
After another film, she began making her own movies and released her first feature, “All Is Forgiven,” in 2007. “I had a very serious life, compared to Sven,” she said, likening her lifestyle during her 20s to that of a monk. “I thought he was very lucky for a long time. This freedom was beautiful until it becomes sad.”
Her brother, 42, sat on an adjacent sofa, where he nodded in recognition. “I never felt lucky at all,” he said. “I couldn’t build anything. Nothing actually.”
“The perpetual present can become a prison,” the director said. “It’s like ‘Groundhog Day.’ ”
It takes almost the entire movie for Paul to arrive at that selfknowledge. The two-part story covers the heady origins and mainstream success of the music scene — the club sequences are contagious in their ecstatic vibe— and also the sustained hangover that comes when the party has moved elsewhere. Paul’s friends variously become rich, start families, grow up or fade away, but he just keeps spinning— with diminishing returns, a cocaine addiction and a trail of ex-girlfriends.
“It’s a film about growing up, a film about the ideals of youth, a film about staying yourself and still believing in what you’ve been, what you’ve achieved,” the director said. “It’s about the difficulty of becoming an adult.”
History, it has been said, is written by the victors.
The Hansen-Løves decided to take an alternative approach by outlining the story of a musical revolution as seen by the guy who didn’t become a Grammy-winning dude in a robot suit.
“I found it more universal,” said Mia Hansen-Løve. “More people can deeply connect with Paul’s story than with Daft Punk’s. Daft Punk are the exception.”
Daft Punk duo Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have funny outof-costume cameos in “Eden.” When they try to get past the velvet rope at a nightclub, they are deemed totally unhip by a doorman and refused admission.
They also were generous with the production, accepting a lower fee for music rights, which helped the filmmakers to establish a more affordable bottom line for soundtrack licensing.
The songs evoke a kind of nostalgia for now-quaint nights of dance parties and vinyl on twin turntables. “EDM is overshadowing the rest of the good electronic music,” said Sven Hansen-Løve, “which may be part of the film’s appeal.”
The director elaborated: “The music is so dominating that when you go back to the source, when it was pure and underground, people are attracted to that, because they feel like they’ve lost something, in a way.”
Mia Hansen-Løve’s sensitivity to a naturalistic tone also makes the story easy to tap into, even for those who don’t necessarily share the exact same experiences. Though the action is set in Paris and, briefly, in New York, the film could be about any microcosm of young upstarts who create a scene that becomes bigger than they imagined.
“Many people say after seeing the film, ‘It’s my story. You’ve just taken my story,’ ” de Givry said.
Hansen-Løve elaborated on her approach. “It’s a perspective that’s close to life,” she said. “I do believe in that. It’s not ideological. As a filmmaker, I find the poetry in the reality and not outside of it.”
The film concludes with some actual poetry: a recitation of a verse from Robert Creeley’s poem “The Rhythm.” When Paul pivots from the turntable to the pen, he begins to write. As the filmmaker explained, she didn’t want to create a “bubble in the past” but to carry her characters through to more-or-less the present moment.
“At the end of script, Paul becomes a writer, and Sven really is doing that now and is getting published,” she said. “The time of the film and the time of real life unite at this point.”
For her part, the filmmaker became intent on fashioning an electronic-music epic. Delays in getting financing only meant more time to write, although ultimately an even longer film had to be abandoned.
“The strange thing for me about this film,” she began, “is that for Sven making the film was about turning the page, but forme it was about going back there. He had had too much of that, and I had not had enough.”
Dollar is a freelance writer.
Golshifteh Farahani (Yasmin), top, and Roman Kolinka (Cyril), left, in “Eden,” a film about the ups and downs of a Paris DJ who was an innovator in the underground French house scene of the 1990s. DirectorMia Hansen-Løve wrote the screenplay with her older brother Sven, who was a DJ in the same period. She based many of the scenes on Sven’s experiences.