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'Eden' uses EDM to tell a story about life speeding by

Mia Hansen-Love's French DJ epic balances the euphoria of club music with the melancholy of time getting away from us.

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‘Eden’
Director:
Mia Hansen-Love
Stars: Felix de Givry, Pauline Etienne
Rating: R
5 (out of 5) Globes

Paul (Felix de Givry), the head DJ in the French EDM epic “Eden,” describes his musical taste as lying “between euphoria and melancholy.” It’s one of those unsubtle, couldn’t-resist lines written by the filmmaker, in this case Mia Hansen-Love (“Goodbye First Love”), to describe what she’s trying to do. There’s a lot of good times and bad in “Eden,” which traces Paul’s life from 1992 to mere months before the film’s Cannes debut in 2014, but whatever the mood there’s a nagging sense that the euphoric and the melancholic are inextricably intertwined. Raging club scenes are shot with handheld detachment, not with slick on-the-beat editing that marked EDM scenes in the likes of “Go” or “Groove.” Even when characters are getting lost in pulsating tunes that drone on into infinity, the filmmaking is always bringing them down to earth.

Ads be damned, “Eden” isn’t the story of Electronic Dance Music, or even the story of the French Touch wing, which was born of New York’s soul-heavy Garage style. It’s not even really about music. It’s a slow-motion study of early obsolescence and time destroying all. It's an intimate study of Paul, based on Hansen-Love’s brother Sven — a key French Touch practitioner who once lorded over a thriving scene he helped invent. Paul forgoes a possibly promising writing career to spin and mix records at a time when there’s glory and, for the young and dumb and full of an unprintable word, just enough money to be had. He gets so caught up in the business of DJing that he doesn’t notice the years flying by. Nor can he tell when his very specific brand of music gradually goes out of fashion, leaving him stranded and pushing 40, with no idea where the time went. There’s a galling scene late in where Paul tries to explain to a newb the definition of French Touch — the very essence of his existence thus far — only to find it far too complicated.

Paul is so bad at noticing the two decades flying by that he almost doesn’t age. He’s played, from a teenager to early middle age, by de Givry, with only minimal makeup. It’s a semi-Bunuelian move that has alienated some, but it gels with the way Paul keeps at a youthful passion for longer than he perhaps should. Someone who chooses an art career and never settles down not only has a better chance of looking young, but he or she also may not notice that those around him, friends and family, have barely aged either. To Paul, everyone ages generally the same, even in the case of ex-girlfriends who get pregnant (a la an American gal pal played by Greta Gerwig) or regularly change their hair color (the more serious Pauline Etienne). At the same time, de Felix’s performance changes. Watch him in his teen years and he indeed acts like a teen: carefree, happily half-stupid, barely articulate. His body language hardens as it goes on, and by the end there’s a deep sadness to his eyes and his every move. He’s a different person, even if he’s the same actor.

This sounds like a bummer, and it is. What helps take the edge off and make it bearable is, first, the music, then the purely observational direction. Hansen-Love is married to Olivier Assayas, and you can see his style rubbing off on hers. They both love handheld camerawork that mixes up with the action, getting inside scenes and restlessly roaming about. They both love to use music so that it’s part of scenes, often in the background and ignored by the characters on-screen. It’s not difficult to imagine Assayas, like his spouse, creating a scene where a party suddenly gets spiked when Young Daft Punk, wearing only modest Halloween masks, throw “Da Funk” on the speakers for one of its first ever spins.

Where Hansen-Love and Assayas differ is hard to say, and sometimes it can seem like her style right now is a touch too indebted to others. She even includes some Desplechin-by-way-of-Truffaut scenes of people reading their letters aloud to the camera. But her approach is, if anything, more detached than Assayas, though also more furtively emotional. Paul is a quiet guy to trail over a two-hour-plus movie, yet his reticence doesn’t make his plight more universal. “Eden” is a fairly specific ballad in a minor key for the type of person who didn’t go the prescribed life route, who didn’t pair off and settle down, who didn’t adapt as he should have, who kept at a dream for so long that the scene itself eroded away, sprinkling, atom by atom, into oblivion. At the same time, he can say he really lived.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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