All four of Mia Hansen-Løve’s feature films are autobiographical in one way or another, but it’s nevertheless surprising that “Eden” is the one which most transparently reveals who she is. For one thing, “Eden” is explicitly based on somebody else: Hansen-Løve’s older brother, Sven, a former DJ who co-wrote this sprawling incidental history of the French Touch music scene (listen to all of the music in the film here). An intimate epic running parallel to the ascendancy of Daft Punk, "Eden" stretches from the early ‘90s to the recent past, chronicling 20 years in the increasingly stagnant life of a Parisian DJ named Paul (Félix de Givry). He's obsessed with bringing EDM to the masses, but his focus far outstrips his talent, and it soon becomes clear (to everyone else) that his mild early success is the beginning of a long road to nowhere.
A delicate character study folded into a loving generational portrait, “Eden” might seem like a departure for the director behind wistful dramas like “Goodbye First Love,” but the film coheres into the perfect vehicle for Hansen-Løve to deepen the same movingly detached inquiry into lost time that has informed all of her work. Packed wall-to-wall with incredible music and note-perfect performances (including memorable turns from Greta Gerwig, Brady Corbet and rising French star Pauline Etienne), “Eden” played to rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival, and opens in cinemas this Friday (read our review). Read on for Hansen-Løve’s thoughts about the beauty of uncool storytelling, how she got Daft Punk to take off their helmets, and her upcoming film starring Isabelle Huppert.
You've said that your first three films form a trilogy, and that "Eden" is something of a departure for you, but it shares one very interesting thing in common with the rest of your work, which is a fascination with ellipses in time. In all of your films, the time spent that we don't see —the years you skip over— are just as important as the time you show, and this is particularly true of "Eden."
It was only after making my first three movies that I was asked about this, and I realized that it was something surprising or disorienting. When I actually wrote the scripts, it's not that I wanted to be conventional, because I never did, and being free with my stories has always been very crucial for me. But it's not like I was trying to do something special. I was just trying to be myself. It's hard to find an intention behind it or rationalize it, because for me it's just the most natural way to write film. But one thing that plays a big role in how I write films is the fact that I didn't go to film school, and didn't read any books on how stories should be told. I had to build my own storytelling. It's not like I wasn't influenced —you're always influenced by the films you love, by the pieces of art that matter to you— but I wasn't influenced by the rules you're supposed to follow to write a good script. And also I think that's why people think my scripts are not good. Every time I start to make a film, especially when I try to find money for a film, I always get the same reproach. I don't know if at some point it will actually influence the way I write or not, and I don't even know if I hope it won't. But every time I'm told that my scripts are problematic because they're not dramatized enough. And when I did "Eden,” it became like a Kafka-esque nightmare because of the hangups people had. You know, I changed producers twice.
You've said that the movie would have been much easier to finance if it had a happier ending.
I'm sure. All the comments I've had about the script were that nothing was happening and that there wasn't enough conflict.
That's the ugliest word, and one that you always hear in film school.
It was even more perverse, in a way, because people would say, "oh, we loved it, we think it's a very interesting subject, but we just don't like the way you use it. It's not relevant. We feel you miss the point! You approach something that could be interesting in such a low-key and undramatic way."
They say "make a movie about Daft Punk.”
Or David Guetta. Or they would say to make it more violent. Or they would say that there weren't enough drugs in the film. Or they would say that there were enough drugs, but I wasn't doing anything fun with them. What I said to these people, and what didn't ultimately convince a lot of them, was that I wasn't just trying to make another film about dance clubs. I was trying to make a film about life. It's a film inspired by my brother, and I was just trying to be true to his pathway.
It's interesting how pointedly uncool the movie is.
You know, I think it's something on which my brother and I totally agreed on, and that helped a lot. Something I really enjoyed about making this film with Sven is that he didn't have a narcissistic relationship to the French Touch world, or his old life. He doesn't have a fantasy about how things were. When a lot of people portray those clubs, they want to show it from the point of view of someone who's taken ecstasy. They want to stick to what they think is a certain freedom of mind, and movies that depict electronic music clubs can have such a narcissistic perspective. People think that if you're an insider in that world, that's how you should show it. That you should show how taking drugs gives you access to a certain world that's more true and deep and real than reality.
Compared to "Almost Famous" and other films that aim to capture a particular place and time in the music world, "Eden" is refreshingly free of nostalgia.
Sven and I agreed that it would be much more interesting to show these clubs from a more realistic and distanced point of view. I'm just as interested in the poetry of these places as everyone else, but I just think that true realism is the best way to reveal it. I think it's the best way to reach some sort of infinity, you know?
It's all there in the first scene, when Paul is walking towards what sounds like an incredible party inside of a submarine, and then turns away and spends the night sitting alone at the stump of a tree. It's a movie in which the greatest party in the world is always happening just off screen.
I was asked about the animated bird in the beginning, and why I don't use it again later in the film, and that's the same idea. I enjoyed doing that very much because for me it's a way of saying, "this is going to be a film about a dream life, about what's happening inside his head." But that doesn't mean I want to do it over and over. You say it once and then move on.
When you were promoting "Goodbye First Love" you described "Eden" as "a love story.” What did you mean by that, and now that the film is finished, do you still think of it as a love story?
I've read that too, and I'm not sure where I said it, or in what way, or if it was correctly transcribed. But if I said that, I must have been speaking about Paul's love for the music. Not that I don't think there isn't love in the film, because honestly I think they're all about love and he does love Louise, but the big love of his life that ultimately makes it impossible for him to have a successful relationship with women is his passion for music.
And that's perhaps the most striking thing about Paul's character, how stagnant he is in certain respects. You render that feeling so believably, but at the same time, you make such openly autobiographical movies and yet it would seem as if you've never been stuck in quite the same way that Paul is.
For me, he really only stagnates in the second part. I often feel that Paul is not moving, as if he stayed in the same place all the time , which is true if you consider his love for garage music, and how that love doesn't change even though the world changes around him. But apart from that, I feel like Paul does progress. Okay, so maybe he's not having an amazing career and he's not a great composer, but he wants to create a DJ duo and he does it. His parties become progressively bigger and more successful, and he becomes a recognized DJ who's kind of famous. I'm not saying it's an extraordinary pathway, but he's still doing something. And there are so many people who are just doing the same job their whole life, so I don't know why people see him like he's just doing nothing. But yeah, the second part is about him facing what he's lost, and his stagnation.
But what I want to say about that is that I'm always surprised how severe the public are towards movie characters. In life, do you look around and see so many people around you creating great things and moving on all the time? I don't feel like everybody is full of ambition and energy and self-confidence. I feel like a lot of people around me —maybe because I'm French and a lot of French people are depressed— have dreams they can't fulfill or ambitions that get in the way. I feel like so many people ultimately just stayed in their comfortable little space for 10 years or more. The majority of people are like that. I had the same feeling with "Goodbye First Love,” where people were so angry at the boy because he wasn't doing much and he was depressed and undecided. But for me, the fact that people are not tolerant towards these kind of characters has to do with the fact that they are used to characters that know exactly what they want, and go from A to B to C like they have a very precise goal in their life. And it's fake for me. It's like Marion Cotillard in the new Dardenne film ["Two Days, One Night"]. I love their films, but I'm not so fond of this film in particular. Cotillard's character has a very precise problem in her life, she has to resolve it, and there will not be a single shot in the film not telling you that she's trying to resolve it. She's a perfect character, and it's a perfect script, and that's what I don't like about the film.