Compassionate, celebratory, cautionary, and curiously affective, Eden is a muted commentary on the road to maturity; an intoxicating arthouse party cloaked in a “failure story”; and a perceptive two-decades memoir about someone trapped in early-20s purgatory. Neither dazzling star-is-born parable nor dour soul-is-lost tale, it has a mystical cadence and a marvellous mood.
Eden is an intimate trip into the rise and fall of Paul, a DJ who pioneered the French touch, a type of electronic dance music that became popular in the 1990s. In an era where rave parties dominate, Paul is drawn to the soulful rhythms of Chicago’s garage house. He forms a DJ collective named Cheers, and his friends form the group Daft Punk. Together, they plunge into the ephemeral nightlife of drugs, sex, and endless music.
Writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve (Goodbye First Love), a Cannes regular (All is Forgiven), has previously gravitated towards projects loosely based on real stories (The Father of My Children), and the trend continues in Eden. Based on the experiences of Hansen-Løve’s brother Sven, Eden is a unique quasi-fictional, quasi-biographical portrait of an artist as he struggles to create and stumbles into adulthood.
Frances Ha‘s Greta Gerwig (these days, the woman can do almost no wrong) has a small but memorable role as one of Paul’s many sexual entanglements, but his back-and-forth romance with resolute companion Louise (Pauline Etienne) makes for some of Eden’s best scenes. Eden resembles, even mimics, the low-key dynamics of 1960s folk drama Inside Llewyn Davis, though it’s not a black comedy and doesn’t quite reach the same level of sublimity. It’s similarly evasive: the Coens told the story of a wannabe Bob Dylan; Hansen-Løve focuses on the musician who didn’t become Daft Punk.
From the opening credits, one is washed away by the intricate details of the world that Eden portrays; even the script of the title cards contributes to a feeling of immersion. The environment may be unfamiliar to many, but it is far from uninteresting. Instead, Eden is so infused with great music and suffused with naturalistic flair that it’s practically dripping with inspiration. While Hansen-Løve’s whispery style – something close to recessiveness – will still keep some audiences at bay, Eden is her most critically acclaimed work yet, and a definitive step forward.
It’s probably 20 minutes too long (the lack of discipline among modern filmmakers might as well be a cliché by this point), but the messiness in Eden borders on the beguiling. It’s also almost certainly an intentional act of creative mischief by Hansen-Løve: it’s a way of wrapping viewers in the ennui, allowing their ears to adjust to the sound systems, and acts as a metaphor for the lead characters’ stubborn refusal to let go or change for an extended period of time. She’s a tactful and sensitive, but not particularly urgent or passionate, filmmaker, and therein lies the essence of her charm.
The longing to create is often characterized by contrasts – the glamorous and mundane, the generous and selfish, all make an appearance in Eden – and the sincere is mixed with the self-indulgent. Some critics have attacked it as amorphous, as having nothing new to say about what it takes to succeed as an artist. But Eden wants to be is exactly what it is: a trickling, alluring mini-epic. Understated and tattered, drunk on the possibility of reinvention, Eden ends on a note of hope and promise about what is to come.
When asked about his music, Paul describes it as “somewhere between euphoria and melancholia.” The same thing could be said of the film around that music. Despite its excess, Eden is extraordinarily entrancing. Beneath the beat, there is something beautiful to behold.