Even after the success of Daft Punk's monster earworm of a hit, Get Lucky, the world is probably not waiting on tenterhooks for a feature-length movie about the history of Parisian electronic dance music, known as the "French touch."
No matter. Eden is a demonstration of another kind of "French touch," that of director Mia Hansen-Love, who finds a tender eloquence in this film about a young DJ named Paul, based on the experiences of her older brother, Sven. In the realm of disco lights and thumping bass lines, mounting debt, hungover mornings and interchangeable sleeping partners, there's a real love story here about a man and his passion for his loops and beats.
Hansen-Love started her career as an actress in two Olivier Assayas films when she was young, and she then married him.
Although he's 26 years her senior, they're kindred artistic souls who work in the tradition of such filmmakers as François Truffaut and Jean Renoir, emphasizing psychological truthfulness and a heady sense that cinema is a way of examining the intense emotional eddies in the flow of life.
In 2012, the TIFF Bell Lightbox held a three-day retrospective of Hansen-Love's first three films under the banner of Fathers and Daughters, though the title shortchanges her range. Her first feature, All is Forgiven (2007), is about the reconciliation of a girl with her father, a former drug addict. Her second, The Father of My Children, was about the suicide of a film producer, and the effect on his family. But her third film, Goodbye First Love (her only title available on iTunes and Netflix), was a story of romantic obsession spanning eight years.
Eden is her most ambitious work, following more characters over a longer period. Its design resembles an extended dance mix, with motifs that come and go and gain meaning through repetition. The tone reflects the music Paul says he most loves, falling somewhere "between euphoria and melancholy."
When we first meet Paul (Félix de Givry, who looks notably like a young Jean-Pierre Léaud), he's a stoned teenager, wandering through the woods following a rave in a docked submarine. After it's over, he goes back and asks the DJ about a particular tune. The DJ pulls the record out of its sleeve and puts it on the turntable: It's love at first sound.
Eden, like all of Hansen-Love's films, is divided into two parts.
The first is called "Paradise Garage" (after the late-eighties New York club presided over by Larry Levan), and it chronicles Paul's infatuation with "garage music," which combines techno coolness with warm soul vocals. The love affair takes place against a background of ordinary middle class life: While Paul's older sister is moving on to graduate school, he's puttering around, putting his thesis on hold and wasting his father's inheritance.
At breakfast, Paul's concerned, indulgent mother (Arsinée Khanjian) reads aloud an article from Le Monde about the effect of the party drug ecstasy on the nervous system, but he shrugs it off. Some people can make money as a DJ, he tells her.
Soon, he's partnering with his buddy Stan (Hugo Conzelmann) to form a garage house duo called Cheers (their logo is the same as the one for the TV show). They become part of a scene, led by the balding, and obsessively hypochondriacal Arnaud (Vincent Macaigne), and including the depressive illustrator, Cyril (Roman Kolinka) who is writing a graphic novel about their world.
In the nightclub scenes, Denis Lenoir's precise, subtle camera moves across the floor, watching the audience lost in its rapture, without joining the experience. If the audience is stoned on ecstasy, Paul's drug of choice, more appropriate to the night worker, is cocaine.
Although generally better at relating to turntables than people, Paul has a few lovers. One is an American dream girl, an aspiring writer played by Greta Gerwig (whose handful of English-language scenes feel stiff). Another is an Arab girl who does a perfect backflip into a pool, and a third is an actress who runs up bar bills but won't sleep with Paul.
The blunt young woman who routinely challenges him, and ultimately becomes the most important relationship in Paul's life, is Louise (Pauline Etienne), who loves him so determinedly that he eventually has to reciprocate, only to find she's moved on.
There are wonderfully specific details here: the euphoria of the French DJs' trip to New York, countered by the crumminess of their lodgings and bad news from home. There's a raucous meal, with wine and oysters, after a night of work.
Weaving in and out of the story, a little like the shadowy presence of Bob Dylan in Inside Llewyn Davis, is the presence of Daft Punk's two musicians, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (played by Vincent Lacoste and Arnaud Azoulay) who, in a running joke, keep getting shut out of clubs because the doormen don't know who they are, thanks to their lack of robot costumes.
"It's crazy that you haven't changed," says Paul's old girlfriend, Julia, when he returns to New York, and in the film's strange real/unreal world, Paul does not seem to age much over the course of two decades, which, from a determined realist like Hansen-Løve, seems paradoxical. Part of this is her refusal to bow to the convention of theatrical prosthetics, but figuratively, Paul has stayed frozen in time.
The film's second part, "Lost in the Music," follows Paul's gradual decline. Cheers' sound is out of style. The cocaine is becoming a problem (a friend describes him as a human vacuum cleaner). The club owners are becoming stingy about the size of the guest lists and debts have become overwhelming.
Eden does not end, though, with a fall from grace or the sudden uplift of a Hollywood happy ending.
Paul moves on, gets a job and starts taking writing classes. The movie ends with a beautifully chosen Robert Creeley poem called Rhythm, given to him by an acquaintance, about light and day, changing seasons and closed doors and open windows. It's the pattern that makes meaning, and you can't program that into a movie screenplay or a drum machine.