We’ve seen the story before. A young man gets pulled into a world of sex, drugs, and partying. But in “Eden” the party is orchestrated by the protagonist, Paul (Félix de Givry), a DJ who forms a two-some musical act in the 1990s. The act or band is known as Cheers, and with his partner, the two mix and sample music and create a sound, manipulating the beats to enhance the groove on the dance floor. And by relying on support from his family, Paul grows his group to the point where they are hosting parties in clubs in Paris and around the world. But the high life is fleeting and new beats constantly threaten.
Adopting a very matter of fact tone and tenor, the “Eden” narrative has a very authentic feel organically evolving as the characters age as time passes. And even though it is co-written by a DJ, the emphasis is on character and coming of age instead of the music process. Like another French youth-skewing drama “Blue is the Warmest Color,” the vibe is hip and the structure unfolds over a period of years. You travel with Paul and his friends through the good and bad times. And it is consistently interesting if not typically exciting and cheaply entertaining.
Compare the failed attempt to capture the club life of the 1970s with Mark Christopher’s 1998 film “54.” That film gave us loads of atmosphere and flash, but the substance was somewhat lacking. As an aside, I’m keenly interested in Christopher’s new director’s cut of “54” that has been written about. By contrast, “Eden” steps away from the party and gives us the characters responsible for it. And instead of diving into the process of beat creating, we dive into the emotional toll that the lifestyle has on its participants. Paul sees his competitors, mainly embodied in a fictionalized version of Daft Punk, rise to greatness while he continues to struggle regardless whether he has the talent.
Director Mia Hansen-Løve (“Goodbye First Love”) works from a script co-written with her DJ/Producer brother Sven Hansen-Løve. They clearly know the DJ business from the inside out. And it would have been easy for the film to gorge on the lush and lurid party life-style, but while we get some of that familiar stuff, “Eden” spends a lot of time inside Paul’s apartment and examines his life intimately. The look of the film is soft and somewhat desaturated shot with the Arri Alexa Plus under the director of cinematographer Denis Lenoir (“Still Alice”). The look of the film is very much in-keeping with the overall uncertain and downbeat mood. And this approach cuts the glamor in favor of a cold dose of realism.
Much of “Eden” is in French, but sections are in English, especially those featuring actress Greta Gerwig as Paul’s on again off again love interest. Gerwig is toned down here, playing a conflicted character who floats through Paul’s life and could have a stabilizing effect but choses another path. Organic is a good way to describe how these relationships evolve on screen, and while some may find this manner of story-telling mundane, others will be drawn in. I know I was, and I’m glad I stuck with it. “Eden” is the kind of film that captures the beats that move us forward.