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July 22, 2015

Film + EntertainmentMusicReview | by Francesco Cerniglia

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Eden is a pulsing, atmospheric dance music odyssey that avoids easy answers and cheap melodrama in favour of a naturalistic style that simply lets the music do the talking.

Writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve’s fourth feature takes for its setting the Parisian ‘French touch’ dance music culture that exploded in the ‘90s, investigating the life behind the parties, raves and drugs. The movement’s most famous sons, Daft Punk, are pushed to the fringes however, in favour of skinny, young garage DJ Paul, more or less based on Hansen-Løve’s brother Sven, who co-wrote the script.

Paul moves quickly from attending parties to throwing them as his vinyl-spinning career takes off. From there, Eden goes through the heady mix of drugs, sex and raves you might expect, but Hansen-Løve shows a rare directorial restraint. She avoids the nightclub clichés of spinning camerawork and bludgeoning audio, content to show the audience the chaotic euphoria and disorientation of a rave, rather than force it upon them.

That’s perhaps in part because the Hansen-Løves recognise that the drugs and the partying were, and should be, secondary to the music itself. From the film’s opening shot, tracking a group approaching an isolated rave, Eden is suffused with the stuff. The 41-track soundtrack is a comprehensive introduction to French house and garage, along with its American influences, drawing on well-known classics (including a few from Daft Punk themselves) alongside more obscure underground inclusions.

The director’s cautious, realist style extends to the sound mix too, as the music ebbs and flows, sensitive to room sound, obstructions and crowds singing along. This music isn’t for us, it’s for Paul, and it’s as fully realised a part of his world as any of the characters.

This deep connection to garage is, inevitably, Paul’s undoing, as he falls victim to changing tastes, his debts mounting while the parties dwindle. More than his financial misfortunes though, Paul is left behind by life. Across the film’s two decade time span, friends and lovers alike come and go, almost all eventually moving on or settling down while Paul merely continues, his abiding love of the music his only constant.

The light touch of lead Félix de Givry plays its part here. His Paul is sweet, sympathetic and ultimately hopeless, a naive dreamer never quite ready to face life on its own terms. De Givry brings an almost childlike Gallic charm that shines through whether at the mixing decks or facing down his debts at the bank, an innocence that makes his journey all the more believable, and sympathetic.

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While genre giants Daft Punk are by no means the film’s focus, Eden is smart enough not to ignore the elephant in the room. The duo crop up at key moments, played sans robot heads by Vincent Lacoste and Arnaud Azoulay, to serve as both understated comic relief and an unavoidable contrast to Paul’s own career stagnation.

Dance music culture has rarely been brought to the big screen intact, and more rarely still been shown as any more complex than drugged up hedonistic excess. Eden stands as both a love letter to the French touch and a cautionary tale for the culture it created, Hansen-Løve’s genuine adoration for the music shining through in every painstakingly placed beat.

Eden is released in UK cinemas on July 24th

Dominic Preston