Depicting the history of the ‘French Touch’, a child of House music from the early 90s, through the perspective of one eyewitness/contributor, Eden ostensibly packs a trump card. Director Mia Hansen-Løve’s brother Sven is essentially the main character, for he experienced that fleeting success while friends and colleagues (most notably of course Daft Punk) ascended from his side.
Considering its source in truth, and a truth so immediate to the filmmakers, Eden should’ve been more affecting, or more exhilarating, or more emotive. Just more ‘something’. As it is, the obsessive focus on little moments and whatever comes next (the morning after instead of the night before, then the next night before that morning has had its impact) drains the film of any drive and energy trailing along coldly if not quite comatose.
Case in point, the lead character Paul (Felix de Givry). Give us a character story or don’t, but not this bare bones approximation of a human being, an artificial everyman who seems so reactive rather than proactive it’s surprising the man is capable of starting a DJ partnership and become as significant as he does. This reactivity is only compounded by the fact we never really see him meet friends or lovers, just witness the disintegration of those ties as the strain of his passion (not always shared with these others) wears everyone down.
Ultimately the most damning thing is that both the character and film lacked the passion for the music necessary for them to be affecting the way Hansen-Løve presumably wanted, finding themselves only half heartedly in worship of this dance music, and observing not exploring the flipside to dedicating one’s line in the pursuit of it. Every moment of the two-hour runtime is given equal weighting, which is to say, none at all. Yes, like life perhaps, where you can view existence as one moment after another, each given the exact credence we perceive and permit it to have.
Early on, Paul describes his reason for loving this precise period of ‘modern disco’, for its “balance of euphoria and melancholia”. It seems designed as a mission statement for the film, but Eden is too barren to yield this mix. Normally I don’t overly care for passionate, emotive filmmaking (unless we’re in the completely unrestrained messiness territory of a Dolan-like figure), but this story, in this context, it needed to connect and connect it didn’t. Instead, it was difficult to see the film on the same terms as the director and her brother; here’s this intensely personal story and life lived – let’s instead view it as dispassionately and clinically and elliptically as possible.
However, not to unfairly condemn the film; looking at it from this more forensic perspective, Eden still has fruit to bear. Commendably the film doesn’t just signpost important moments, giving an animated illustrated CliffsNotes version of cultural history (the cinematic equivalent to LCD Soundsystem’s satirical ‘Losing My Edge’, perhaps), working instead as Boogie Nights without the verve.
Some may praise the film for avoiding the classic pitfalls of youth culture films, wherein the attempt to replicate clubs and mass, inhibition-less gatherings results in forcing disengagement on those audiences. However, the few moments where Eden took on kaleidoscopic, documentary-esque head-rush realism were also the points where the communal spirit of the music in question hits hardest and most astutely. Often a sober observer, the mere handful of times we were presented with a more empathetic window into the ephemeral moment found the film all the richer. Then I almost believed the filmmakers cared about this music.
Essentially, the reason the film exists in the manner it does is to present the difficulty Paul has in leading this euphoric existence while the melancholia of Real World Issues encroach on the edge of the dancefloor, if not the turntables. Unfortunately, this cognitive dissonance infects Eden itself, never quite enrapturing like it wants, never quite hurting like it should. It’s a shame the film couldn’t reach those heights, but maybe that’s a better reflection on the desires and reality of that lifestyle than Eden itself depicts. That’s the cold hard morning light after the night before for you.