With only four features to her name, French director Mia Hansen-Løve has emerged as one of the strongest filmmakers working in France today. Her last two features, “Goodbye First Love” and “The Father of My Children,” were both very well-received and won her awards at the Cannes and Locarno film festivals. But it’s “Eden,” her fourth feature, that’s poised to attract her largest audience yet purely based on its subject matter: the history of the French electronic music scene — otherwise referred to as “house music.” Based on the career path of her brother Sven, who co-wrote the film with his sister, “Eden” tracks 20 years in the life of Paul (Felix de Givry), a French DJ struggling to make a career for himself as the industry explodes around him.
Indiewire caught up with Hansen-Løve last year following its screening at the New York Film Festival. Broad Green Pictures opens “Eden” in select theaters this Friday. Is “Eden” more personal to you than your other films?
I think it’s as personal. All of my films are very personal. I mean, I don’t know how you can be more personal. It’s not something unique; many filmmakers make, fortunately, personal films. But not only because they’re autobiographical. It’s the way I live with them during all of the process. My two previous films were also inspired by people I had known. I hope, at some point, I can make a film that’s not inspired by a friend or people I love or a person I lost. But for some reason, until now, I could only make films inspired by people who mean a lot to me, because I always felt more necessity to do that. I always feel more urgent and more attracted to films that are portraits of people that I care about. Just because I’m so conscious, maybe too much, about the fragility of life and the passing of time — it’s always where I feel some kind of necessity.
When I decided to make this film, my brother was facing a very hard moment of his life. He had been a DJ for 20 years, during many years of which he’d been extremely happy. But it had become really destructive at some point. There was a period of time, like 2011, where he was really depressed and broken, and it had been going on for a couple of months, if not years. He was trying to start writing, something he had always wanted to do but took him so many years to actually do. A lot of people actually want to write but don’t because they don’t feel enough self-confidence. It took him like 20 years until he could be confident enough to start really writing. But what I mean is, it’s impossible for me to disconnect the decision to write this film from what my brother was facing at that time.
The other thing is a completely different reason why I wanted to make the film, and it’s kind of a paradox: Sven needed to turn the page and move on and start a new life, and it was a way to finish this story to make this film. But for me, it was also about the contrary; it was also about going back to this time. I felt like he’d had too much of it, and I didn’t have enough. When I started making films, I stopped partying, I stopped progressively going to his parties, too. I went into a very serious mood. I really focused on making films for like 10 years. I know people still call me a young filmmaker, but I’ve been making films for 10 years. And after these three films which were quite melancholic, I really felt the need to go back or to find again some kind of lightness that I had the feeling I had lost in the process.
When you proposed the idea to make “Eden” to your brother, was he immediately on board?
Yes, he was. We’ve always been very close. I mean, we were seeing each other every day. We were talking about his problems, we were not only brothers and sisters but very good friends. There was trust. I didn’t have to gain his trust. There was no defying. But then the decision of writing the film together came progressively. First, we spent quite a lot of time just talking about the project, the idea, figuring out how we wanted to tell the story, what we wanted to focus on, why it was so exciting.
First, I wasn’t sure I was going to make the film. I wasn’t sure how, where it was going, and we spent quite a lot of time just discussing it and realizing how exciting it was because nobody had made the film we were thinking of. It’s like, the more we talked about it, the more we realized that it was all virgin. That made it even more stimulating. I think Sven got more and more excited by the idea, and it was an opportunity for him to look at his own history in a more positive way. Because recently, he had felt some kind of reject of his own story. It was as if he didn’t see the meaning of it anymore.
For me, making films was always about finding the meaning. Just the fact that you tell the story and you give a structure to it, just the fact that you put it into something rational — even if the meaning isn’t necessarily rational, but to tell a story you have to do a chronology and fixing and make some choices — that’s enough for me to give a meaning. Just the fact that I give a frame. Giving a frame gives a meaning for me. I think Sven, progressively, had the same feeling when we were in the process of writing and we realized that it allowed him to take a distance and to look at it differently.
Watching “Eden,” I felt like I was living in the movie. It’s a long film but it doesn’t play like one. The pacing just feels very true to life.
I think I was kind of lucky, because I didn’t go into any film school. I was never taught how a story should be told. I’m not saying it’s great to write films this way. I think there are other ways possible, and I don’t think there are good ways and bad ways. But the fact is, the way I write films is totally my way. What I mean is that I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but all I know is that it’s a very personal way to tell the story because I was never told how I should tell a story. It’s actually a problem. Every time, when I try to get my films financed, I’m always told I should not. Especially in France. I always have troubles with the French commissions and institutions who are always telling me there’s not enough dramaturgy. I’m always reproached. You know the money from the state, which is so important for the art house films I’m doing? I went to them three times, and three times I got refused. The reason why I’m doing it is just because what I’m trying to do is not to obey the rules. I’m trying to construct a story in a way that it gives my feeling of truth about life. There’s not one truth; it’s not “the” truth about life. But how I experience life, my feeling of the passing of time and my impressions — I think my films are very impressionist in a way, in the style. I’m just trying to recreate a feeling and atmosphere that has to do with my own experience of life. But not with the official way a story should be told.
Sometimes you can take a long time to find your own freedom. I have the feeling my problem would be to find the classic rules that I don’t know. Freedom I got immediately. What I didn’t get is the rules; sometimes it’s also interesting to obey the rules. It can bring you a lot, but that’s a new challenge for me.
Given your singular approach, I’m wondering what kind of filmmakers who inspire you, or whether there’s anyone out there right now whose work you admire.
There are a lot, actually. Some of them are working in the industry, some are totally underground. I love the Safdie Brothers as much as the Coen Brothers. I love Olivier Assayas’ work. I’m totally influenced by all of the filmmakers of the Nouvelle Vague, especially François Truffaut. I’m influenced by those filmmakers, but young ones as well. I’m not very ideological about filmmaking. I have principals that are deeply rooted in me about the aesthetic, and I think these are the principals that are inherited by the Nouvelle Vague. This I feel is my moral family, in a way. That’s the deepest connection I feel. But then there is a huge number of filmmakers who make totally different films for some reason that I feel connected to.
You took a major gamble by casting Félix. This guy’s never acted before and he’s fantastic in the film; he carries it. What went into the choice, and were you nervous about hiring him?
I was always confident with my choice. I knew I didn’t want a famous actor to play the part. It didn’t really make sense because he was supposed to be so young in the beginning. He’s French. There’s no French young actor that’s famous anyway, so it didn’t make sense to take It didn’t make sense to take a star to act as this character. It’s true that I was strangely always more excited to work with non-professional actors. I like to feel free about it, I would never accept that people, or a producer, would impose on me some actors. Maybe when I was younger, I would have said, “I want work mostly with non-professional actors, or very young actors,” because they have an innocence that others don’t, but now I feel a little bit different. Now I just feel like I want to work with both, but I want to choose them, I want to be totally free about who I’m working with.