French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve turns her gaze on herself, and her relationship with her brother and co-scripwriter Sven, in “Eden,” opening in arthouses from nascent shingle Broad Green Pictures this weekend.
This long and beautiful and episodically structured epic begins at the bottom of a submarine in Paris in the 1990s, where young bon vivant Paul Vallée (Felix de Givry) finds heaven in the underground electronic music scene. Over the next two decades, Paul makes a name for himself as a DJ in Paris and in Manhattan, mixing with a coterie of followers and collaborators, all cigarette-smoking, drug-taking flaneurs who, as time goes, stray from Paul and his wayward lifestyle.
His obsession with mastering his music—a trippy, dancey blend of “melancholia and euphoria,” which also aptly describes this movie’s swaying moods —starts to cost him, literally and figuratively. Romance fizzles, and then fissures. Women come and go, including one (oddly cast) cameo by Greta Gerwig as an American short story writer, and Pauline Etienne as his longtime love object Louise, who walks away from Paul most bitterly of all as he enters into his 30s.
The character of Paul, an enigma both loathsome and sympathetic for anyone who believes the creative life is the real one, stands in for Sven, who was a figurehead in the 1990s French club scene. Hansen-Løve’s autobiographical touches never feel indulgent or obvious, and the passage of time (despite the film’s unwieldy length) feels like life itself, much like another recent hard-partying French opus of an artist’s rise and very hard fall, “Saint Laurent.” “Eden” looks gorgeous, shot loosely in handheld strokes and basked in effervescent lights and colors during the club scenes that put you right there. And more beautiful are the young cast members, pretty and pale and dreamy, whose features grow more haunted over time.
We may feel like we’ve seen this story of the tormented artist and his shattering ideals before. But Hansen-Løve never goes soft in creating what feels like an iconic coming-of-ager, keeping an emotional reserve throughout. So it must be in the music that we find the beauty and the heart of “Eden.” (Electronic music duo Daft Punk licensed almost $4,000 of their music to appear—and get name-dropped several times—in the film.) Electronic dance music, i.e. EDM in modern parlance, has now become the stuff of corporate sponsorship, but this film reminds that the allure and the romance, and the obvious nostalgia the Hansen-Løve team feel for it, of the movement came from a real place.