“[An] insightful character portrait.”
by Ken Bakely
“I’ve been for sometime, looking for someone / I need to know now, please tell me who I am.”
– Daft Punk, “Within”
From moment to moment, thread to thread, and scene to scene, Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden is less concerned with advancing a singular story than it is depicting a handful of characters throughout a two decade span of time – or rather, one particular character: Paul (Félix de Givry), a scene kid-type, who in 1992, takes the plunge from relative aimlessness to becoming a DJ and producer, rising through the ranks in the Parisian club hierarchy as EDM takes the urban music scene by storm throughout the ensuing years. The 131 minute film ends in 2014. That de Givry’s character does not visibly age the entire time is, as Hansen-Løve rationalizes, a choice which was made to avoid the unintentional hilarity of bad age makeup. But as many have pointed out, this doubles as a statement on Paul, who affixes himself to a particular passion and pursues it, breathlessly and relentlessly, and being confronted with a Sisyphean struggle to remain after the crush of reality imposes itself with the inevitable progression of life. This is demonstrated in a sequence set in the late ‘90s, when Paul, visiting New York, catches up with his old girlfriend Julia (Greta Gerwig), in which her clearer-headed, professional focus plays against Paul’s static, youthful naïvety, unkind for a man approaching thirty.
Those familiar with Hansen-Løve will notice that this languid stroll over an extended timeframe is similar to the approach taken in what is arguably her most popular work, Goodbye First Love. She puts us on a path of discovery, emulating the long-edged pop cultural range of something like Boyhood, but without the captured passage of actual time to contextualize the film’s calendar. In this approach, it is impossible to write a single, fixed plotline of any particular focus – one’s only real option is to create a broad arc and convey it with as much pointed, specific detail as is necessary. Another common detail is the closeness that Hansen-Løve brings to each screenplay. Goodbye First Love is a semi-autobiographical account of her first serious relationship as a teenager, while the character of Paul in Eden is heavily influenced by her brother Sven, who was a DJ throughout the rise of the French house movement (he also co-wrote the script). However, despite this direct line to the character inspiration, de Givry doesn’t really give the character of Paul any real, consistent traits. There is his strong-headed ambition, his greatest asset and greatest flaw, and everything else is written around that, or other characters which act as a crutch. This is the biggest problem which injures the capabilities of Hansen-Løve’s otherwise insightful character portrait.
And it is very capable. An extensive soundtrack, comprising of upwards of three dozen songs, is peppered throughout Eden, combining diegetic and artificial additions. You can’t have a film about music without a lot of music, of course, and Hansen-Løve makes sure that each selection is equally relevant– a recurring element is an intersection with the rise of Daft Punk, the duo synonymous with French house in many respects, and one of their recent songs, the above-quoted “Within”, is featured in both an emotional underscoring and sly callback. Cinematographer Denis Lenoir chooses not to adapt a bombastic style, even during scenes set in clubs, and instead maintains a sparse, linear approach, framing characters in an array of medium to medium-wide shots, emphasizing the actors’ body language. Ultimately, this is a film which is heavily reliant on a wide scope, both in micro and macro senses. Hansen-Løve’s depiction of an inherent pushback against the irrevocability of age and the futility, yet near universality, of our collective fight against the passage of time, is given a vivid backdrop here. As we get to know Paul, we learn that beneath the confident, boyish exterior of his late teens lays an insecure interior and, to bookend this review with another lyric from “Within”, he is confronted with so many things he does not understand.