TIFF 2014 Review: ‘Eden’
Mia Hansen-Løve took le autrefois French New Wave route to becoming a director. She began by acting (in future life-partner Olivier Assayas’ Late August, Early September). Then she became a film critic for the esteemed Cahiers du Cinéma magazine (the publication for which 60s French New Wave pioneers Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Rivette all wrote for before they became directors). Then she began directing. All these switches within the medium occurred over a four-year timespan. Her older brother — Sven Løve, a pioneering DJ at the heart of the emerging underground rave culture that would gift the world Daft Punk — took a longer and more direct artistic path.
Sven was a DJ for two decades. He was present and young at the start of something new, exciting, carefree and before he knew it, everyone else had moved on. One constant over two decades was that people still didn’t recognize the faces of the accepted pillars of that movement — Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Man of Daft Punk (played in Eden by Vincent Lacoste and Arnaud Azoulay) — because they’re known for wearing robot masks at public appearances.
In her third feature, Eden, Hansen-Løve never shows Daft Punk donning their masks or shows a discussion of when they decided to do so. Instead they awkwardly spin their singles, not sure how the small house parties will react to their newest re-mixes. They are also repeatedly denied entrance to clubs until someone spots them and gets them in. The actors who play Daft Punk do not have a huge part in the film, but they have a presence that is felt throughout Eden knowing how large they got and how their career has grown to include film scores and Grammy wins. Two decades after they began. The focus of Eden is on what Hansen-Løve knows: her brother. Someone who was there at the start, experienced just enough of the highs and perks to think he could do it forever, and then the comedown of approaching 40 with massive amounts of debt and lacking relationship skills outside of a club setting.
With Eden, Hansen-Løve hasn’t made a banger. What she has made hangs in the air longer and works its way into your sidewalk steps. Eden is a passionate, textured film that took her and her brother years to complete. (Greta Gerwig, while we love her around these parts, her performance at the start of the film is closer to her mumblecore days of old and feels clunky compared to her assured work in Frances Ha and Damsels in Distress; but when her character re-emerges years later, she does appear more confident of herself — as though Gerwig, as an actor, had also become more confident when her character was re-visited — which re-contextualizes her earlier scenes.) In a loving way, Eden could be retitled Brotherhood, for both the smallness of Paul’s circle and for Hansen-Løve’s patience with his life choices. The pace and small moment details of the downtime places Eden in an ether that’s close to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Except Eden has a waaaaaaay better soundtrack.
Hansen-Løve has given a human portrait of her brother’s scene-fame, including the difficulty that comes in maintaining relationships in a late-night environment and the type of bad money management that comes from being paid by clubs under the table. I don’t know if Hansen-Løve wrote features for Cahiers du Cinema, but her film feels like a great longform feature piece, not for specific content and quotes, but for author observations as a portrait. We observe the parties that Paul (Felix de Givry, who plays someone based on Sven Løve; Sven also co-wrote the film with his younger sister) attend and the late night crew celebrations for a gig. We see that even though his new life includes being flown to DJ major art openings in New York, he still sleeps on a mattress on the floor. Hansen-Løve focuses on small tortuous details, such as a haunting dry-erase drawing from a friend (Roman Kolinka) that is kept in its natural state for years. We see the parties move from the woods, to underground, to above ground and finally to a place where the dip in interest of paying customers can no longer cover the overhead. We also see Paul with three different girlfriends: one is an American visitor in Paris (Greta Gerwig), one always asks for the drink comp tickets before saying “hello” (Laura Smet) and one is someone who is present for Paul, even when she is in his past (Pauline Etienne).
We see all these things with little semblance of how much time has passed in between, with the exception of a dated year chapter. Hansen-Løve invites us to catch Paul in certain moments. Some of those moments include a friend (Vincent Macaigne) giving a passionate defense of Showgirls being a master artwork and a poem written by Robert Creeley that is delivered at the exact right moment with the exact right words.
I bring up Verhoeven and Creeley because Hansen-Løve has made a film very much like a DJ does a remix. There’s a formal structure, an A-side and a B-side, and she peppers artists that you might know throughout — Daft Punk, Verhoeven, Creeley — but just enough that they don’t overpower her own contributions and her own mood is maintained. The mood and the music is marvelous.