Capturing the Fleeting Glory of the French House Music Scene

AFI Fest: Mia Hansen-Løve finds <em>Eden</em> in her latest film

The ambitious micro-drama Eden, which spans twenty years, follows a DJ named Paul who starts out as a mover and shaker in the in the French house music scene. In the ‘90s and early ‘00s, he plays to packed clubs and receives an invite to visit New York. “You’ll be a writer, I’ll be a DJ” he tells a lover. “We’ll be rich.” Sic transit gloria. Sure enough, the 21st century rolls on and he finds most events foregoing DJs in favor of iTunes playlists. But Paul clings stubbornly to his dream, a sight that’s both sad and beautiful to behold.

Eden, which just had its West coast premiere at AFI Fest, was directed by Mia Hansen-Løve, a much buzzed-about French filmmaker. Formerly an actress, the 34-year-old is now a hot director, her works garnering praise at home and abroad from film lovers. Her previous films such as The Father of My Children and Goodbye First Love, are beloved as simple, artfully executed tales of love and longing. The she made Eden, her fourth feature, with input from her older brother Sven, who has a cowriting credit on the film.

“My brother is much too shy to come to me and say, ‘Why don’t you make a film about my life,’” Hansen-Løve says. “But there was something about this atmosphere, the energy of the people, this life in house music. I realized that if I were to make this film, it would have to be about him. He was in a place to see everything happen though he didn’t succeed in it in the same way that others did.”

The two decided to collaborate on a film without being sure what Sven’s involvement would be. Hansen-Løve initially asked him to write certain scenes but found herself relying more and more on his insights. “I took care of the storytelling and the structure, but he wrote a lot of scenes set in the clubs and all the scenes with Paul and his friends. And we chose the music together,” she says.

For the most part Hansen-Løve shied away from the biggest electronica songs. “I thought there were a couple of songs that had to be there, like ‘One More Time,’” she says. “There was this heat. French people were invading the world with this music. It matches the emotion of the time.” But most songs were chosen for the way they connected with specific clubs and eras.

A big chunk of those experiences involve Daft Punk, the most globally successful act of the French house scene. In the film, Paul is friends with the pair before they decide on a name or don their famous helmets. That too was based on Sven’s life. “[He actually knew them more] than what you see in the film,” Hansen-Løve says. “When we gave [Daft Punk] the script, Thomas [Bangalter] asked why we didn’t use them more! I think Sven felt shy and didn’t want to use their names to make him feel more important. It was crucial to have this parallel between their career and my brother’s.”

In contemporary American culture, the ‘90s, specifically nostalgia for the ‘90s, holds a lot of power. But Hansen-Løve is under no illusions about the period. “The film has a real love both for the music and for the people who made it. But it’s not about nostalgia. It’s really about being lucid, knowing both the luminous side and the dark side of it.”

Hansen-Løve’s films, including Eden, have been described as “realist” by some critics. While she doesn’t disagree with the term, she thinks there’s more to her work than that: “I tend to identify myself with realism, but my films are actually a lot about dreams and the invisible.” She cites stylistic flourishes in the film, like a cartoon bird or the words of a poem flitting across the screen. “I can find reality more concretely when I feel connected to some other world. I think it’s actually part of [realism] to present some of the spirituality and the invisible that’s in everyday life.”

Though much of the film is rooted in history, Hansen-Løve maintains that conveying the emotion of the time was more important than anything else. “We were not pretending to tell the whole story about the ‘90s or the French surge. The ambition was to try to get some authentic feeling about what it had meant for us to experience those years.” That’s an aim higher than tweaking nostalgia, and it’s why Eden has earned so much praise.