While British electronica band Faithless had a big hit with their defining track God is a DJ – it’s a sentiment that works both ways, as in many situations, in nightclubs across the world, it is in fact the DJ who plays God. At the tip of their fingers is the ability to either make your night, or ruin it, and when the former they are revered, idolised and worshipped. But what happens when it all comes crashing down, to retreat back into a life of normality? These are themes seldom explored on screen – but tackled with a deft execution by Mia Hansen-Løve in her latest endeavour, Eden.
The aspiring DJ in question is Parisian Paul Vallée (Félix de Givry), ambitious, intrepid and gifted – coming up through the ranks at the same time as electro duo Daft Punk. While the scene adores the latter, and they rise to prominence, the same can’t be said of Paul and his collaborator Stan (Hugo Conzelmann), who struggle to break through, despite a small slice of success that leads to gigs in the US. Domestically there are as many challenges for Paul too, as following his break up with Julia (Greta Gerwig) he enters into a somewhat tumultuous relationship with the volatile Louise (Pauline Etienne).
Hansen-Løve perfectly captures that vitality and exuberance of youth when discovering new music (in this case it’s the birth of the French house). In a similar vein to recent British films Good Vibrations and Northern Soul, this picture survives off that ineffable sense of excitement, the notion that this is the best life gets – which is how it can feel at the time. That energy extends to the viewer, it’s infectious. Also similarly to the aforementioned titles, Eden is driven by its pulsating soundtrack, which informs and dictates the narrative, moving it along at a consistent pace.
As a result of this, many of the film’s most enjoyable scenes feature no dialogue at all. That’s not to say the screenplay isn’t sharp though, helping to form a palpable chemistry amongst our group, which is entirely uncontrived, and very natural. It’s subtle too, as the mornings after are just as integral a part as the nights themselves. There is a unique, understated nature to this film too, with an entry point who is the perfect catalyst into this world, and yet remains on the sidelines somewhat. It would be terribly easy and predictable to tell this story from the perspective of those who made it big, like Daft Punk, in a more traditional rags to riches tale. However in this instance we’re focusing on somebody who struggles, who learns the hardships of the industry – which is arguably even more intriguing. There’s as much of a story to be told of someone who nearly made it, than somebody who did.
However it’s difficult to form an attachment to the protagonist, and despite being such a personal journey, it’s not easy to feel emotionally entwined. This comes as something of surprise given this tale is based on the director’s very own brother Sven, who also co-wrote the screenplay. But this more detached approach can be beneficial too, as we take on the form of a voyeur, watching on rather than getting involved ourselves. We’re that guy who stands by the bar, leaning back with his drink in his hand, watching on as everybody else dances. You may think he’s a bit of a weirdo, but perhaps he’s the one with a greater sense of perspective – able to appreciate all the facets to the occasion, rather than just being caught up in his own moment – and this film thrives on that notion.
That being said, not all of Hansen-Løve’s techniques work, such as the ill-conceived readings of letters to camera, which sadly makes up around a third of Gerwig’s involvement – while the immensely talented Golshifteh Farahani has even less to do. Sadly these brief cameos are emblematic of a picture that flirts in and out of themes, without fully exploring them. Paul’s romances, his drug addiction – they just don’t quite feel substantially dealt with, as a film that can be accused of being over-ambitious, spanning this tale across two decades, when perhaps a more simplistic, transient approach would have been preferred.