You Had To Be There: Mia Hansen-Love’s Eden (2014) – in cinemas
The promise of a sub-cultural document of life inside the French techno boom proves elusive; it’s just the same old song with a faster BPM.
(Mia Hansen-Løve, 2014)
Cinema has always prided itself on the ability to bring key cultural moments to life, while directors have similarly always revisited their own pasts for subject matter. Eden represents an interesting collision between the two – a potted history of the French dance music scene, based on Mia Hansen-Love’s real-life brother (and co-writer) Sven. Yet, as the saying goes: maybe you had to be there.
With its credentials, you’d think verisimilitude would be the defining quality of Eden, but somehow it hasn’t worked out like that. There’s a strangely anonymous quality to the film – with its conventional rise-and-fall arc and its playing-to-the-gallery use of famous characters (including a great running joke about Daft Punk not being recognised by club bouncers) it could have been made by anybody. In its club scenes, Hansen-Love offers loving slow pans across rooms full of revellers, but there’s a visual flatness elsewhere. There’s a moment of animation at the beginning that promises a bolder, more playful aesthetic but it turns out to be a red herring.
Arguably, the problem is that Hansen-Løve is too close to the material. She introduces a soup of characters all aligned around the central, Sven-surrogate of DJ Paul Vallee (Félix de Givry), but seldom do we get any insight into who these people are or how they relate; even Paul’s musical partner, Stan, is too easily sidelined. There’s a pleasing camaraderie to the group, especially during a prolonged visit to New York, but it’s hard to care about any of them, which robs one tragic subplot of its power.
The editing nearly achieves a suitably euphoric flow, with its sense of half-recollected memories being reassembled, but all too often the recall is hazy. We get events devoid of context and, surprisingly, on the detailed minutiae that give life to specific moments. Stitched together, it’s an utterly conventional affair, as Paul takes too much cocaine, gets into debt and struggles to satisfy his romantic yearnings with a string of liaisons. The nearest supporting character to achieve an impact is on/off girlfriend Louise (Pauline Étienne) but she is defined solely in relation to Paul, usually in terms of her neediness. Otherwise, your best bet for remembering a character is Paul’s American ex, mainly because she’s played by Greta Gerwig in full Greta Gerwig mode.
There’s a much better film buried here, especially in the central dialectic of innovation versus imitation. Was Paul any good? Or was he a hack who was got lucky by being in the right place at the right time? Hansen-Løve hints at the latter, as Paul’s dwindling audience reflects their changing tastes while he is stuck with his old schtick, but there’s precious little focus on the music to back that up. As captions announce another fast-forward we’re rarely privy to how well Paul is faring. It’s a character study, not a cultural study, and a shadowy one at that. Maybe you really did need to be there.
Eden is in cinemas from today.
Tagged French Cinema