At the heart of Mia Hansen-Løve's latest film, Eden, is the familiar tale of a struggling artist. In the case of Løve's sprawling, exquisite opus, that artist is Paul (played by Félix de Givry), a burgeoning DJ at the birth of the French House movement. For Løve, the character is an avatar for her brother; for the audience, the character is an avatar for themselves – or at least the wide-eyed iteration of themselves that once believed they would turn their artistic enthusiasms into an actual, bankable profession.
Set in the early 1990s, the film exists in the post-disco haze of Cheryl Lynn and Whit Stillman's under–appreciated masterpiece, Last Days of Disco. But what grounds Eden is the commonality of its protagonist. Movies tend to be occupied by the outliers. The prized few that miraculously made it. However, Paul is talented, but not prodigious. Passionate, but not preternaturally gifted. The painful thwarting of one's salad day desires has rarely been depicted with such honesty.
Løve's first three films also reflected her reality; Tout est pardonné was inspired by the death of an uncle, Father of My Children by the death of a film producer who was important to her and her third, Goodbye First Love, was about her own adolescence. With that in mind, we met with the director to talk about nostalgia in cinema, as well as the story behind Eden, her musical upbringing and to ask her whether you can correct life through art.
VICE: Hi Mia. Was your brother Sven your gateway into this world of Parisian music culture? Both in fiction and reality?
Mia Hansen-Løve: Yes, he was. Totally. The first bar where he really was a resident was Bastille in Paris. I was 13 and he was 20. It was perfect. They would push the tables to the side and start the dancing. There was no good lighting. It wasn't meant to be a night club. It was so smoky; you couldn't breathe in there. My best memories of my entire youth are from those parties. Because of the fervour and spontaneity and the feeling that something big was starting.
You knew that as a young teenager?
Well, yeah, because my brother told me about house music. It was something new that was driven by a couple of young boys and girls who were passionate about the music and were creating some kind of... if not movement, at least some collective energy.
They weren't just DJs: they were musicians, producers, artists, radio programmers, managers, designers – that all connected into what was later called The French Touch. Daft Punk were a part of that. We didn't know how famous they were going to be, they just had an aura. As very young boys, it's not like they were handsome, but they had visions from the start of where they wanted to go. That was one of the big differences between people like them and people like my brother, who really lived in the present, not really knowing where he was going.
Are you suggesting that planning for the future is a better path to take than "living in the moment"?
My brother really lived in the present. He had some kind of ambition as a DJ, but no ambition of earning money or becoming famous. He was excited about the music and had a desire to see how far he could go with it. That's actually something that moves me. I find it beautiful – some kind of poetry. People don't think that way any more.
What about you? Did you decide you wanted filmmaking as a career?
It's more like it came to me than that I decided it. I didn't do any film school. It's not like I knew it since I was a child or anything. It was really when I was 21 that it became obvious for me. I dropped everything that I was doing: I stopped partying; I stopped seeing my friends almost. Because I was facing really hard times, it appeared to be the only thing that could help me survive. I was really pathetic. I really saw filmmaking as something that could save me. And after ten years of working and three films, I have felt the need to come back to another way of living: to start living in the present again.
So, while we were making the film, my brother and I were working on opposite desires. He wanted to start a new life, become an adult and start a new chapter. And I was the opposite: I wanted to go back to the past. The film was a way to be with my brother as a companion, to support him in this process by making this film, and at the same time, there was the desire of going back there for me. I felt, actually, like I was going back to garage music, and partying, and to youth in a way. I felt the need to go back to a certain lightness that I had lost. It was very freeing.
So the film served a dual-purpose?
Yes, totally, and I should also say, for me, making films has to have something to do with real life. What I mean is, I'm not afraid to say I do make films in order to influence my life in a good way.
What do you mean exactly?
There's always a deep connection between the problems I have in my life and the films I do. There is a constant dialogue between my films and my life. And that's what gives me the energy and the passion. And when I make films, they truly have a function in my life. I don't make films just because I want to make good films. I make films because I need them.
You know, the other day somebody sent me a very moving piece of sound, of the voice of Truffaut. It feels like it was just recorded in the street, and somebody asked him, "Why do you make films?" And he said, "There are two kinds of films: there are films you do because you have failures, things you're unhappy with in your life and you make the film to cope, to make it better than it is and to avoid the failures you've made in your real life. And you have films that, on the contrary, you make in order to show life as it is."
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And so what were you trying to correct in your life through making Eden?
I guess, the lack of coherence or structure. The fact that it's erratic. It's hard to see the meaning of it all. You have the feeling that it doesn't make sense. Just by making films, it gives you a framework to choose what you want to keep and what you want to not keep, and what you leave outside and what you want to keep forever inside.
What's changed in the last decade, working as a director?
You know, ten years has gone like that [*snaps fingers*]. It's very scary, and I think because of that, I made Eden. I've had a child, but I've basically been working, making one film after another. The child's probably been an influence on me, of course. But at some point, if you just stop for a minute, you look back, and think, 'Have I done anything? Is life nothing but making films?' And in a way, I'm OK with it. And I do think life is films.
Do you find that you're a nostalgic person?
I know this word is often used to describe my films. I've read it many times. But I think it's incorrect. But I understand why people would use it: because my films speak about or are inspired by people who are dead, or else they are about moments in the past and connect with that. They are about memory, passing of time. But I never felt at ease with the word. The other day, I looked in the dictionary, because I wanted to know why I don't like it, and it says, "When you look back with some kind of tenderness in a pejorative way." Tenderness can be positive, but here, it's like there's something cheesy about it. Nostalgia means thinking of the past with self-indulgence.
You think we romanticise?
Yeah, when you get moved, like, "Aww, it was so good." I think the past is part of the present. I feel the need to talk about the past. I'm passionate about trying to transmit things, feelings I have that are to do with a connection to the past. But I never feel a longing for the past.
Eden is out in the UK this Friday.
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