French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve isn’t exactly known for emotional subjectivity and visual bombast, so when a young raver tripping out in a field sees an animated bird swooping through the sky in her latest film, Eden (2014), it potentially marks something of a departure. Subsequently, things settle into a more familiar aesthetic that follows a similar trajectory to the director’s greatly adored Goodbye First Love (2011) – namely the effect of time’s passage on an intense love. Whereas her last film explored romantic affection, however, this time around her decade-spanning offering follows the passions of a DJ from youthful exuberance to weary resignation, all to the beat of French electronica.
Though nothing like it in terms of tone and style, comparisons could be made between Hansen-Løve’s latest and Richard Linklater’s wonderful Boyhood (2014), with Eden’s runtime sifting through almost twenty years in the life of one young man, protagonist Paul (Félix de Givry). Like Linklater’s film, there’s no attempt to force his experiences into the structure of a conventional narrative or provide oft expected resolutions to relationships and plot strands. Based loosely on the director’s own brother, Sven (who co-write the screenplay), Paul is an aspiring DJ borne of the same early nineties Paris club scene as Daft Punk – who cameo here. As they shoot to monumental fame, Paul and his partner – the unassuming Stan (Hugo Conzelmann) – have moderate successes tempered by erratic gigs and ongoing drug issues.
Like her previous works, Hansen-Løve keeps things fairly cool both in terms of her visuals and the expression of her young cast. Where many would be tempted to leap onto the dance floor in each of the many nightclub sequences, attempting to mimic participation, she hangs back. That detachment creates its own sense of atmosphere, capturing the pulsating beat and the writhing bodies through observation rather than emulation. The same is true of the characters with Paul often as implacable as her past protagonists, though as the years pass, de Givry does manage to deftly and gradually develop a settling ennui that makes his arc subtle but believable. The restraint doesn’t always pay dividends, however, as the intensity of Paul’s life is strangely absent even in his younger days.
Flings with Greta Gerwig (as a US ex-pat) and Pauline Etienne as tempestuous on-again-off-again girlfriend Louise never quite provide the force needed to pierce Paul’s shell. Neither are the affects of his long-term cocaine addiction really felt other than in paying lip service to his perennially empty bank account. Fortunately, a sense of humour and nostalgia are both employed successfully to skirt the potential inertia of Paul’s slowly declining career, and though de Givry’s performance is quietly moving, one may have just hoped that Eden would get under its subject’s skin a little bit more.
This Eden review was originally published as part of our coverage of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson