When calling Eden one of the more directionless portraits of a life and movement, one must clarify that this is not meant as a bad thing and that the lack of direction refers only to traditional expectations of narrative for what’s essentially a biopic of sorts. On its surface, Eden seems to be simply telling the rise and fall of one particular man in one particular music scene, in this case the French house or “French touch” scene that took off in the early 1990s. Director Mia Hansen-Løve is concerned less with a narrative of modest success followed by years of toiling away, and instead with the yearning for youth, to recapture something that seemed like it was only just there.
Her biggest concerns are capturing bodies and faces in a lived-in atmosphere. Eden has something in common with another 2014 premiere, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, in that the mission statement (of sorts) in the latter is something found throughout the details and storytelling approach of Eden. At the end of Boyhood, Linklater’s protagonist Mason philosophises that life is all the little moments, and the greatest strength of Hansen-Løve’s films is how she does so much with so little. The economy of Eden’s scenes have a great poetry to them, distilling a wealth of emotion and character history into the briefest of exchanges, many of them physical gestures.
Take for example, Louise, the lead character’s most prominent love interest in the film’s two decade span. She’s beautifully played by the wonderful Belgian actress Pauline Etienne, and she in particular is remarkable at conveying so much about their gradual infatuation and subsequent relationship complications through body language, glances and short facial expressions.
Hansen-Løve co-wrote the screenplay with her brother Sven, and the film is, by all accounts, an autobiographical account of his experiences over two decades. Rather than going by his name, the protagonist of Eden is Paul (Félix de Givry), whom we follow from his mid-teens in 1992 to his mid-thirties in late 2013. As in her previous film, Goodbye First Love, pretty much all the main players don’t visibly age beyond change in haircuts, though this generally excludes Paul and many a person mention that he never seems to change, lending a vampiric quality to the DJ who already lives by night.
When its stars don’t age, the background details of Eden help one find a bearing on the time beyond a superimposed title card stating the year. Recurring figures through Paul’s social circle early on are the two men who would be Daft Punk, though their presence diminishes as their own success inflates. If you don’t know most of the other music playing in Eden, the presence of career-spanning tracks (“Da Funk” and “One More Time” feature prominently) from one of electronic music’s biggest acts can hone you in on what the something in the air is given the timeframe.
It should be stated, though, that familiarity with any of the music is not a prerequisite for appreciating Eden. It’s an era epic that’s both euphoric and melancholy, riveting despite running on the ever fleeting. It’s the new best film from one of the world’s greatest new directors.
Josh Slater-Williams (@jslaterwilliams) is a freelance writer based in Glasgow, Scotland. Alongside writing for Vague Visages, he is currently the managing film editor at Sound On Sight, and a regular contributor to independent British magazine The Skinny.