‘Eden’ Brilliantly Captures the Highs and Lows of the DJ Lifestyle in 90s Paris

We Skyped with French director Mia Hansen-Løve about her "low-key epic," her brother Sven of the DJ duo Cheers, and how to film a good club scene.

by Adam Cook
Jul 1 2015, 5:30pm

Felix De Givry in 'Eden.' Photo courtesy of Broad Green Pictures

Eden is the fourth and most ambitious feature from the 34-year-old French director Mia Hansen-Løve, known for her coming-of-age dramas All is Forgiven (2007) and Goodbye First Love (2011), as well as her beautiful melodrama about a failing, depressed film producer, Father of My Children (2009). Eden is, in Hansen-Løve's words, a "low-key epic" about Paul, a DJ who rises to fame amidst the emergence of the "French Touch" music scene in Paris, and eventually finds himself at odds with his age and the real world. Hansen-Løve captures the same sensations of growing up and adjusting to life's ebbs and flows as in her other work, but in a completely fresh setting—mostly on the dance floor.

The filmmaker's brother, Sven Hansen-Løve, was a successful DJ in the 90s as part of the duo Cheers, and his real-life experiences form the basis for the storyline. Eden burns with authenticity in its portrayal of this cloistered world of music and the generation that defined it, which Mia Hansen-Løve describes as idealistic. Furthering the verisimilitude, Daft Punk even figure as side characters in the film—their prominence was also solidified in this period—and Eden gets at some of the vibrancy and nuance in the club scene that usually goes unarticulated in cinema. Jam-packed with 42 songs on its soundtrack, Eden is itself like a magnificent DJ set, with just the right amount of rise and fall, narrative and theme. You may find yourself dancing in your seat as the film sweeps you into the Parisian nightlife just as you may find yourself wiping a few tears from your eyes. As with her other films, Hansen-Løve again shows the pains and joys of living as inseparable elements that define us. And so the beat goes on.

After catching Eden at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it premiered last fall, I spoke with Hanson-Løve to talk about her new film and its unique challenges. Although we initially met in person, the following interview was conducted over Skype.

VICE: In a way, your first three films feel like takes on similar themes, driven by a coming-of-age story. In Eden, Paul has to deal with living in the real world while also having to live in a very specific world of music.
Mia Hansen-Løve: I do think the film is in continuity with my previous films, a different kind of coming-of-age story about becoming an adult. Maybe not an adult, not about growing up, but about time passing and sticking to who you are, and to and idealism and purity, in fidelity with your feelings. But you can't help but change and accept some things, and moving with them.

In Eden you also explore a different dynamic of the individual and the world and those around him.
Yes, this film is in a way related to my other films. But it also allowed me to explore new territory. This film is also about friendship more so than my other films, and something more collective. I had never filmed scenes with that many people before, about being together with others and losing yourself in friendship. Also, the filming of nightclubs and [incorporating] music in so many scenes was totally new and challenging for me.

If you're making a living from being a DJ, at some point the gap in age between you and the people who come to your parties gets bigger and bigger.

In contrast to Richard Linklater's Boyhood, which is about people change with time, Eden is more about looking at someone who stays the same as the world ages.
About somebody who is unable to change, yes, and can't keep up but realizes that time passes faster and faster and that he has to. If you're making a living from being a DJ, at some point the gap in age between you and the people who come to your parties gets bigger and bigger. You play these shows, but meanwhile you're an adult with a job and family and the audience keeps changing, their age the same. I don't think it helps with finding someone to share your life with or adjusting to the world.

It could be alienating.
Yes, it's at the heart of this film.

Felix De Givry in 'Eden.' Photo courtesy of Broad Green Pictures

And in all your films, really, characters are having to adapt to things changing around them.
For me, it has to do with my perception of time and life. I do believe that cinema is able to transmit that. The feeling I have is that most films don't really do this. They don't show you how time actually passes because usually the viewer knows more than the people in the film—the script is one step ahead of the characters and also the characters know exactly what they want, and have specific goals. That's why the characters in my films seem more passive, or people feel that way, because when people see characters who are closer to people in real life, it seems different than what we are used to in films. Viewers can get surprised when they encounter realistic characters because they're not used to seeing them in movies.

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Eden had a troubled production history. Your first producer fell through, and initially it was supposed to be a three-hour film? Could you talk about the struggles of making a movie today?
It's so tough now. This was a nightmare actually, and it could have taken all my energy or discourage us. But miraculously it never did. I never stopped believing in the film. At first, I was working with my usual producers, and they tried very hard to get it financed. I had written a two-part film, so it was essentially like two scripts, and that made things difficult. I would have released the parts separately, and I wrote it this way because I was so obsessed about the idea of making a low-key epic about someone who fails. But it was unrealistic. Not enough other people believed in it this way, so I ultimately had to shorten the film and scale back the concept. We had to look outside of France and try new ways of finding support. It was really important for us to actually shoot some interiors in New York, to shoot in multiple seasons so we could have real winter. These were stipulations that caused trouble, but we were stubborn.

Did this process of adapting and compromising the project result in changes that ultimately improved the film, having forced you to revisit it so closely again and again?
Maybe one thing. I had wanted to shoot in MoMA PS1 from the beginning. It was very important to have this one scene with thousands of extras. Initially, I envisioned we'd have more control of that environment for shooting, but the compromises led us to shooting it in a wild, documentary style that is way more rock 'n' roll. Also, in Paris, there were a couple of scenes we were forced to shoot that way, too. In one club, we just shot without sound in the middle of the active club. We did have authorization, but we did it low-key to capture the real atmosphere. It gave us more freedom in the end. The film is a balance between complete control and complete freedom.

[The film is] a portrait of this generation's ideas, hedonism, idealism, and its trouble integrating into society.

Your brother's real-life experience as a DJ is the backbone of the film. This was his first time writing a movie?
Yes, though he has always been involved with writing, just like you see with the character in the film. He had written short stories, but never a script. It wasn't planned that we'd write it together. I started on my own, but would ask him so many questions about his experience, and it evolved into me asking him to do some dialogue and to develop characters. He would give me these pieces and I would fit it into the story. Eventually he was writing full scenes, and it changed my writing, and the overall film a lot—he infused a lot of humor and atmosphere.

To what extent do you balance real life and fiction?
It's just something that happens naturally. It's just my language, I think. It's not autobiography, but all my films are heavily influenced by who I know and love, and what I experience. It's always coming from life.

Director Mia Hanson-Løve on the set of 'Eden.' Photo courtesy of Broad Green Pictures

There's a character in the film who I suppose is a fictionalized version of you, but she's younger than Paul and is only in Eden briefly. How close were you to your brother's world?
I was there a lot more than in the film. I met all his friends, I went to lots of parties, and I'm more like the other characters in the film that are involved in the scene. My own memories of this world were the basis of the film before I brought in my brother to help. The sister character is me you could say, but not really. It was a sad time in my life, when my older brother left home and I was left alone with my parents. Every time he'd visit home, he'd bring back new music, and connect me to that—and his—world.

What about the generation of you and your brother in general did you want to capture in Eden?
Through Sven's story, I hoped I could really make a film for our generation. His story was more relevant than mine [portrayed in Goodbye First Love] to accomplish this, and I thought it could be universal, this story of the difficulty of growing up is I think very specific to this period. It's a portrait of this generation's ideas, hedonism, idealism, and its trouble integrating into society.

You do an amazing job of filming dance floors, and capturing that essence, which is something movies usually get wrong. What did you set out to do differently with these scenes?
There are films with nightclub scenes I like, but there weren't any films with nightclub scenes that had the authenticity or truth I was looking for. Being aware of that made me excited about the challenge of capturing the atmosphere and making it powerful and raw in terms of the music, and to also bring out the poetry of it while making it realistic. That was hard. I wanted to merge the realism I was interested in and the ecstasy of the experience of dancing and the music. Once we were on set I realized it was about finding my own rhythm for each scene, not necessarily attached to the songs we were playing. Even if the music was very loud or strong, I found a certain slowness and quietness—

—There's something soft about the way you filmed it.
Yes, a softness. That belonged to me. It was important not to imitate the style of the music. Then it becomes a video clip.

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It's a more sensitive way of filming club scenes. There's more nuance to that club experience than just the beat. There can be a transcendence.
There was this concern about how to do the sound to illustrate that. I really tried to work with the sound in a way that was concrete. If we were completely realistic and used the natural sound, it would be too distorted. I didn't want that—I wanted to bring out the melody and the lyricism, its beautiful music. At the same time, I wanted to bring out the real feel of the dance floor. I had to get the rights to the music before shooting so I knew what we were using in each scene.

And there are 42 songs in the film.
Yes, and we needed to work really precisely with how the scenes and songs relate. There are moments where the characters are talking in clubs and we let the real sound play so it was realistic. In too many movies people talk in clubs normally but that's impossible, you have to yell, and it even changes your body language, what you say, so we wanted to have that. These questions of realism had consequences on every level. For the extras, we worked for one year before shooting. We didn't want professionals. We found them at electronic music festivals and clubs. We chose them one by one. I knew so many of their names. We worked with them so closely to make sure we had authenticity.

Mia Hanson-Løve's Eden is in theaters now.

Adam Cook is on Twitter.