Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
Opens June 19
At the risk of raising the ire of EDM militants (and using a somewhat nebulous term of critique), house is not the most cinematic of musical genres. It sounds and feels like background (even to some fans), something that sets a mood and a beat but that accompanies rather than stands alone. So the notion of a film—at one point conceived as two separate installments, à la Che—set in the world of the subgenre of “French touch” didn’t set this heart racing at new rates of BPM. Did I mention the film shares its title with the word for prelapsarian Paradise? In fact, Mia Hansen-Løve’s beguiling Eden blooms into a touching reflection on the dialectics between life, memory, and culture, reaching a depth beyond the apparent reach of the metrical signatures of its chosen music.
The rise-and-fade protagonist, Paul (Félix de Givry) sees his melancholic take on house, as part of the group “Cheers,” gain fleeting popularity amidst the evolving waves of dance music in the Nineties and Early Aughts. Eden falls within the “circle of friends” realm of memoir dramas, and traverses and telescopes personal eras, career landmarks (parties, clubs, radio, MoMA PS1), and girlfriends a bit like Hansen-Løve’s oddly bloodless and far less successful Goodbye First Love. The weedy De Givry is a thoroughly inexpressive actor, a problem I’m not sure the film ever completely overcomes—the one time his character cries, he even covers his face with his hands—but his opaqueness doesn’t bespeak a lack of emotion in the film, as its fairly crushing final quarter confirms.
Hansen-Løve’s film is based on the life of her brother, Sven, who’s credited with co-writing the screenplay, but there’s no attempt to proclaim this chapter in pop music as legendary or paradigm-shifting (as every other documentary might). There’s a running joke in fact that the sole name stars to emerge from the scene—Daft Punk—are still not recognized by bouncers even after achieving crossover fame. But notions of foreground and background are very much part of the film’s cultural dynamic, with a poignant portrait emerging of Paul as someone who falls out of step with the times (without being armed with the sarcasm of a Noah Baumbach character), in an already fuzzily defined era.
That’s not to say that Eden forgoes some traditional flashpoints for drama—suicide, drugs, romantic jealousy and spats—but much of their impact is felt in radiated aftershocks as much as in the moment. And it’s a somewhat extraordinary film for overcoming the challenges inherent to its cloistered milieu (as well as an unnervingly tone-deaf turn by Greta Gerwig as Paul’s American Girlfriend, who gets her Truffaut letter-read-to-the-screen moment). While the film’s lopsided division into two sections and its quotation from a Robert Creeley poem at first struck me as grandiose, even overcompensations, they grew on me, much as the film as a whole crept up on me, and perhaps much as Paul gradually, imperceptibly, and then painfully finds himself adrift.