Saturday, July 11, 2015
A version of the story in "Eden" has been told many times before, but it's a story that still rings true. When you put your whole life into pursuing your dreams, it can come at a cost. Basic things everyone needs like friends, family, love, money... they can be difficult to maintain when you're so focused on your one main obsession. And so what happens when you find yourself getting old? All of a sudden, life all around you has passed you by. That girl/boy you dated 10 years ago is now married with a child on the way. People grow up, grow old, die, have kids, move away---and you missed all of it. And when the life you once you thought you wanted is no longer feasible, you end up having to make some tough choices.
So, in a sense, the story that unfolds in "Eden" has a strong sense of familiarity, but the movie explores the world of French house/garage music with such intensity, attention-to-detail, and a near-journalistic sense of history that it hardly matters whether or not the dramatic arc isn't completely original. It's the minutiae of "Eden," its insistence of living in the moment, that really makes the film come alive. For Mia Hansen-Love, this is the fourth feature-length film she's directed and she handles the proceedings with remarkable sense of craft and confidence. "Eden" is a sprawling film that clocks in at just over 130 minutes and it essentially dissects France's EDM scene dating from back to 1992 and concluding the story in 2013, well after Daft Punk became a household name all over the world. But despite the sprawling nature, the beat never stops, there's always something about the film that hooks you in.
And all this is despite the fact that the film's lead, Paul (Felix de Givry) is not the most charismatic dude in the world. But we start with him as a teenager in 1992 when he forms a DJ duo called Cheers with one his school mates. Their music is greatly inspired by the garage house music scene in Chicago, and for the next couple of years, the duo find a substantial amount of success. Not enough success to take them to the next level, but it's enough to keep Paul from wanting to quit and do something else with his life.
Though he does occasionally have second thoughts. The first girl we see him with (Greta Gerwig) is living in Paris temporarily when they start their affair. When he meets up with her again in her Manhattan home, she's married and pregnant. His manages to have a steadier, more serious relationship with Louise (Pauline Etienne) who accompanies him on a regular basis at the clubs he performs. And she seems to genuinely care for him. Still, something keeps them from fully connecting and she, too, moves on and starts a family without him.
Meanwhile, all of his contemporaries - that aren't in the band Daft Punk. Daft Punk are mentioned almost from the beginning of the film. Paul's story and Daft Punk's rise to the mainstream run parallel. Thomas and Guy-Man, the members of Daft Punk, are never more than side characters in the film, but their success is still felt by Paul. He, along with his friends, always treat Daft Punk's rise as a positive, but when Paul gets to visit Manhattan in 2001 and he's DJ'ing in front of a massive crowd, it's telling that the song they go especially wild for is "One More Time." Daft Punk have become the standard that Paul and his contemporaries cannot live up to.
Love's film is awfully reminiscent of the Coen Brothers's "Inside Llewyn Davis," but this is more of a case of great minds thinking alike. Plus, Love is a lot less sardonic and caustic about her lead character's misfortunes. Paul is just a guy who uses his DJ'ing career as an excuse to never grow up and it's a career choice that comes with consequences. There's the women he left behind, a close friend who passed away, the endless debt he's amounted. At the end, Paul is in his late-30s, taking writing classes. Trying to revive a career path he gave up years ago in order to pursue music. He meets a girl in his class who asks about his life and he tells her about his career. And when he asks her if she knows anything about House or Garage music, her response? "Well, I know Daft Punk..." Knowing how long Paul tried to make it in the business and how little it paid off for him financially, makes Daft Punk's rise all the more impressive. But after following Paul's life for 20 years, what's remarkable is how much Paul's failures sting you, the audience, more than it stings him. He may have trekked down the beaten path like Llewyn Davis, but something tells me he'll end up just fine. It's a credit to Mia Hansen-Love and her co-writer/brother Sven, that I wound up caring that much about his fate.