All four of Mia Hansen-Løve’s feature films are autobiographical in one way or another, but it’s nevertheless surprising that “Eden” is the one which most transparently reveals who she is. For one thing, “Eden” is explicitly based on somebody else: Hansen-Løve’s older brother, Sven, a former DJ who co-wrote this sprawling incidental history of the French Touch music scene (listen to all of the music in the film here). An intimate epic running parallel to the ascendancy of Daft Punk, "Eden" stretches from the early ‘90s to the recent past, chronicling 20 years in the increasingly stagnant life of a Parisian DJ named Paul (Félix de Givry). He’s obsessed with bringing EDM to the masses, but his focus far outstrips his talent, and it soon becomes clear (to everyone else) that his mild early success is the beginning of a long road to nowhere.
A delicate character study folded into a loving generational portrait, “Eden” might seem like a departure for the director behind wistful dramas like “Goodbye First Love,” but the film coheres into the perfect vehicle for Hansen-Løve to deepen the same movingly detached inquiry into lost time that has informed all of her work. Packed wall-to-wall with incredible music and note-perfect performances (including memorable turns from Greta Gerwig, Brady Corbet and rising French star Pauline Etienne), “Eden” played to rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival, and opens in cinemas this Friday (read our review). Read on for Hansen-Løve’s thoughts about the beauty of uncool storytelling, how she got Daft Punk to take off their helmets, and her upcoming film starring Isabelle Huppert.
You’ve said that your first three films form a trilogy, and that "Eden" is something of a departure for you, but it shares one very interesting thing in common with the rest of your work, which is a fascination with ellipses in time. In all of your films, the time spent that we don’t see —the years you skip over— are just as important as the time you show, and this is particularly true of "Eden."
It was only after making my first three movies that I was asked about this, and I realized that it was something surprising or disorienting. When I actually wrote the scripts, it’s not that I wanted to be conventional, because I never did, and being free with my stories has always been very crucial for me. But it’s not like I was trying to do something special. I was just trying to be myself. It’s hard to find an intention behind it or rationalize it, because for me it’s just the most natural way to write film. But one thing that plays a big role in how I write films is the fact that I didn’t go to film school, and didn’t read any books on how stories should be told. I had to build my own storytelling. It’s not like I wasn’t influenced —you’re always influenced by the films you love, by the pieces of art that matter to you— but I wasn’t influenced by the rules you’re supposed to follow to write a good script. And also I think that’s why people think my scripts are not good. Every time I start to make a film, especially when I try to find money for a film, I always get the same reproach. I don’t know if at some point it will actually influence the way I write or not, and I don’t even know if I hope it won’t. But every time I’m told that my scripts are problematic because they’re not dramatized enough. And when I did "Eden,” it became like a Kafka-esque nightmare because of the hangups people had. You know, I changed producers twice.
You’ve said that the movie would have been much easier to finance if it had a happier ending.
I’m sure. All the comments I’ve had about the script were that nothing was happening and that there wasn’t enough conflict.
That’s the ugliest word, and one that you always hear in film school.
It was even more perverse, in a way, because people would say, "oh, we loved it, we think it’s a very interesting subject, but we just don’t like the way you use it. It’s not relevant. We feel you miss the point! You approach something that could be interesting in such a low-key and undramatic way."
They say "make a movie about Daft Punk.”
Or David Guetta. Or they would say to make it more violent. Or they would say that there weren’t enough drugs in the film. Or they would say that there were enough drugs, but I wasn’t doing anything fun with them. What I said to these people, and what didn’t ultimately convince a lot of them, was that I wasn’t just trying to make another film about dance clubs. I was trying to make a film about life. It’s a film inspired by my brother, and I was just trying to be true to his pathway.
It’s interesting how pointedly uncool the movie is.
You know, I think it’s something on which my brother and I totally agreed on, and that helped a lot. Something I really enjoyed about making this film with Sven is that he didn’t have a narcissistic relationship to the French Touch world, or his old life. He doesn’t have a fantasy about how things were. When a lot of people portray those clubs, they want to show it from the point of view of someone who’s taken ecstasy. They want to stick to what they think is a certain freedom of mind, and movies that depict electronic music clubs can have such a narcissistic perspective. People think that if you’re an insider in that world, that’s how you should show it. That you should show how taking drugs gives you access to a certain world that’s more true and deep and real than reality.
Compared to "Almost Famous" and other films that aim to capture a particular place and time in the music world, "Eden" is refreshingly free of nostalgia.
Sven and I agreed that it would be much more interesting to show these clubs from a more realistic and distanced point of view. I’m just as interested in the poetry of these places as everyone else, but I just think that true realism is the best way to reveal it. I think it’s the best way to reach some sort of infinity, you know?
It’s all there in the first scene, when Paul is walking towards what sounds like an incredible party inside of a submarine, and then turns away and spends the night sitting alone at the stump of a tree. It’s a movie in which the greatest party in the world is always happening just off screen.
I was asked about the animated bird in the beginning, and why I don’t use it again later in the film, and that’s the same idea. I enjoyed doing that very much because for me it’s a way of saying, "this is going to be a film about a dream life, about what’s happening inside his head." But that doesn’t mean I want to do it over and over. You say it once and then move on.
When you were promoting "Goodbye First Love" you described "Eden" as "a love story.” What did you mean by that, and now that the film is finished, do you still think of it as a love story?
I’ve read that too, and I’m not sure where I said it, or in what way, or if it was correctly transcribed. But if I said that, I must have been speaking about Paul’s love for the music. Not that I don’t think there isn’t love in the film, because honestly I think they’re all about love and he does love Louise, but the big love of his life that ultimately makes it impossible for him to have a successful relationship with women is his passion for music.
And that’s perhaps the most striking thing about Paul’s character, how stagnant he is in certain respects. You render that feeling so believably, but at the same time, you make such openly autobiographical movies and yet it would seem as if you’ve never been stuck in quite the same way that Paul is.
For me, he really only stagnates in the second part. I often feel that Paul is not moving, as if he stayed in the same place all the time , which is true if you consider his love for garage music, and how that love doesn’t change even though the world changes around him. But apart from that, I feel like Paul does progress. Okay, so maybe he’s not having an amazing career and he’s not a great composer, but he wants to create a DJ duo and he does it. His parties become progressively bigger and more successful, and he becomes a recognized DJ who’s kind of famous. I’m not saying it’s an extraordinary pathway, but he’s still doing something. And there are so many people who are just doing the same job their whole life, so I don’t know why people see him like he’s just doing nothing. But yeah, the second part is about him facing what he’s lost, and his stagnation.
But what I want to say about that is that I’m always surprised how severe the public are towards movie characters. In life, do you look around and see so many people around you creating great things and moving on all the time? I don’t feel like everybody is full of ambition and energy and self-confidence. I feel like a lot of people around me —maybe because I’m French and a lot of French people are depressed— have dreams they can’t fulfill or ambitions that get in the way. I feel like so many people ultimately just stayed in their comfortable little space for 10 years or more. The majority of people are like that. I had the same feeling with "Goodbye First Love,” where people were so angry at the boy because he wasn’t doing much and he was depressed and undecided. But for me, the fact that people are not tolerant towards these kind of characters has to do with the fact that they are used to characters that know exactly what they want, and go from A to B to C like they have a very precise goal in their life. And it’s fake for me. It’s like Marion Cotillard in the new Dardenne film ["Two Days, One Night"]. I love their films, but I’m not so fond of this film in particular. Cotillard’s character has a very precise problem in her life, she has to resolve it, and there will not be a single shot in the film not telling you that she’s trying to resolve it. She’s a perfect character, and it’s a perfect script, and that’s what I don’t like about the film.
But what’s so interesting about Paul, in regards to your thoughts on his stagnation, is that he’s not pathetic. If anything, his modicum of success illustrates how being content can be the biggest obstacle to being genuinely happy. It can be such a trap.
Yeah, he suffers from the success that he gets. He’s too successful, and just not enough. Everything is so easy for him in the beginning that he doesn’t have to struggle. He finds the right places, the crowds are coming, people are enjoying it. That’s exactly what happened to my brother. When he started being a DJ, he was a student at university and he was a good one. He thought he wanted to be a writer. But at that time, it was much more difficult to make a living as a writer than as a DJ, and not as exciting because it was a moment where you could feel something was happening with music in Paris. Even as I was 13 and he was 20 at the time, I could see that people were aware that we were in the middle of something. Well, Daft Punk were really the middle of this thing. But Sven, and Paul, basically chose the easy way. And I’m sure if Paul had less success, it would have helped him not lose so much time. But ultimately my point of view is not that they lost time. It’s just life: everyone loses time.
But for all of these big issues of life and time, the most urgent question about Paul’s character is whether or not you agree that he’s a dead ringer for Jean-Pierre Léaud.
I’m so happy to hear that! I’m so crazy about Jean-Pierre Léaud. He’s my favorite actor. And it’s not like I was looking for someone who looked like him when I was casting for Paul, but I just found Felix, and for me, he’s like a new version of Léaud. But it’s funny, because when my brother was Felix’s age, everyone would tell him that he looked like Léaud. And he hated it.
Looking at you, and knowing that your brother is a former DJ named Sven, it’s tempting to picture him as a guy with long blonde hair…
No, not at all! He looks like Felix, basically. He’s 20 years older, but he has brown hair and eyes. I think he was adopted. We often talk about which of us is the right child, because we look so different. But it wasn’t just that Sven looked like Jean-Pierre Léaud physically. He also had a way of speaking about himself: half seriously, and half deprecating. And also the way he was talking about his girlfriends…
And speaking about your cast, there’s also Pauline Étienne as Louise. Did you cast her here because her looks and energy so perfectly reflect Paul’s?
I had seen a couple of her films. She’s not like the boys in the film, who were mostly non-actors. She’s much more of a professional. I wanted to work with her because she has a quietness and a simplicity to her acting that I really enjoy. But at some point while filming them, I realized that her character and Paul are very different, and that’s why it doesn’t work between them. She’s an outsider, and from the start she’s negative about these people in the French Touch scene. She’s having an argument in a club the first time we see her. For me, she’s a girl who never felt totally comfortable with these people. But at some point, I really had the feeling that Pauline and Felix were like brother and sister, maybe because they have the same haircut and are about the same size.
The film is filled with key figures from the French Touch scene, but outside of Daft Punk many of the biggest names are missing. There’s no mention of Mr. Oizo or Cassius, for example. Was it because the style of the music didn’t fit the story you were telling?
Not at all. Those are all people we love. I’m a huge fan of Cassius. It just relates to what we were saying earlier. When I write a story, I don’t focus on what it should be to feel right, I just focus on the story I’m telling. I never feel obligated… maybe it’s a problem, maybe it’s a handicap. I feel disinhibited. I feel free, actually. I never manage to put pressure on myself to say this or that, or to have this dramatic scene that would make it so much more commercial. "Why don’t you just do it!" All these things that I’m aware that I should do, but I can’t help not doing the things that people want me to do. Olivier Assayas is not so different, actually. He’s always doing the things he’s not supposed to do.
But there is a very emotionally powerful scene at the end of this film involving Daft Punk.
Well, I get moved by the things that are not always the things that move other people. From my point of view, there are a lot of moments in the film that move me. Even moments that are not especially moving. But to go back to Cassius and the other people I left out, it’s really just because this is Paul’s story, and the most important thing about that for me was the parallel between his story and the rise of Daft Punk. I thought it was more interesting to make a clear choice about which other artist would be the foil for him, rather than to try to give everyone their own little scenes. Because ultimately this really isn’t a biopic about French Touch.
It’s so fascinating that when the musicians do show up in the movie, the film functions like a time machine. When Arnold Jarvis visits Paul’s club, for example. Was that a strange experience for those artists?
I think strangely they weren’t that aware of it. We never discussed it. I think they don’t realize how much time has passed. I mean it! It goes back to what the film is about. Time passes so fast, and they spend so much of their life in the club, they don’t see how fast it goes by.
They all enjoyed being in the film, but none of them ever raised the issue that they’re much older than the age they’re supposed to be in the film. In a way, they feel like they haven’t changed. It’s a lot like my brother. He’s changed and become more of an adult in a way, but for 15 or 20 years he was the same, to the point that it made him sad, actually.
I had a scene in the film that I ultimately cut out where Paul is on the beach with Louise and he’s having coffee with her children, and the young girl asks him how old he is. Paul says "how old do you think I am?" And, like children always do, she says he’s very old. But Paul think it’s a compliment! He goes "thank you for saying that. I’m so sick of people telling me how young I look." It’s like my brother. He had worked on my previous films, and everyone on set kept asking me how old my younger brother was. He’s seven years older than me! I was very jealous about that, but he didn’t enjoy it at all. This kind of eternal youth is something that’s extremely gratifying for a couple of years, but at a certain point it can become a kind of a prison.
Can you say anything about your next film?
I’ve actually been talking so much about "Eden" that it’s refreshing to escape it. I hope to be shooting my next film next summer, but I’m not sure yet because it still has to get financed. It’s a film called "L’Avenir" ["The Future"], and it’s with Isabelle Huppert and Roman Kolinka, who plays Cyril in "Eden.” And it’s a film about a philosophy teacher. It’s a portrait of a woman, basically. It’s a cruel title, because the question the film is asking is if it’s really possible to have a future when you’re 57 and your husband leaves you and your children go away.
So after making a series of films that were about your past experiences, will it be different to leap forward into the hypothetical and examine the period of life that you haven’t lived yet?
Yeah. I’m scared of this film. I think it’s a tough issue for me. The film is not dark, but I’m scared because for women —and I usually don’t think of things like "as a woman"— but to be honest, facing how tough it is to be a woman at that age and to be alone really scares me. After that, I want to go back to youth and forget about it! I just feel like I have to get it out of me and get rid of it so I can go back.
“Eden” opens on June 19th