When Mia Hansen-Løve was growing up in France, her older brother Sven couldn’t get enough of American house music. He imported vinyl records from the United States, obsessed over the soulful “garage” sound associated with New Jersey DJ Tony Humphries and Larry Levan; soon, he was spinning his favorites dance tracks at Cheers, a regular party he threw in Paris. Then Sven began sneaking his 15-year-old sister into the club, and though Mia didn’t fall nearly as hard as her brother, the teenager quickly became a fan.
“I have this very strong memory about the innocence of it, the pleasure,” she says, recalling diverse crowds that knew every word to songs most people would never hear. “It was really about music, and there was this communion that I felt that I really haven’t felt anywhere else.”
Nearly two decades later, Mia and her brother would revisit that seminal period of their lives with Eden, the story of a young man named Paul (Félix de Givry) who discovers France’s underground clubs in the early Nineties and forms a DJ duo with his best friend. Along the way, he bonds with his fellow musical obsessives (including two gentlemen named Guy and Thomas, who are starting up a project they’re calling Daft Punk), becomes a minor sensation among the City of Light’s dancerati, gets a few choice gigs in the States and tries to keep the garage flame alive. A four-years-in-the-making labor of love, it’s both a portrait of the era’s EDM scene and a semi-autobiographical take on the excitement and elation the siblings felt in experiencing it — a realistic film about the thrill of beats-driven escapism.
A filmmaker known for her sensitive approach to grief (Father of My Children) and growing pains (Goodbye First Love), Mia had approached Sven, looking for both a storyline and a creative partner. “At first, she just asked me to talk with her for a long time,” he says. “She took endless notes, and then started to write the structure for the script. Then she asked me to try to write some scenes, and by the end I had written about half of the screenplay.”
As Mia and Sven hashed out what would become Eden, they kept track of what music they wanted to use. Potential soundtrack cuts would bring back memories, which would remind them of other songs and inspire new scenes. If Mia couldn’t remember a title, she’d sing the melody, and her brother would dig through the crates of his mind trying to pull out the right name. They paid careful attention to how each track would be used: Charles Dockins’ “Happy Song,” a garage classic that earns its title, would pound as Paul bounces around a New York club where his hero Tony Humphries stands behind the decks; Daft Punk’s enchanting “Veridis Quo” would be used to signal a change of mood at a celebratory group dinner. (The scene in which the “Around the World” songwriters can’t get into a party because the bouncer doesn’t recognize them without their helmets actually happened, according to Sven; Guy and Thomas themselves suggested that the screenwriters include the incident in the film.)
The contrast of real-life musicians experiencing international acclaim with the movie’s fictional characters stagnating as their thirties approach initially suggests that Eden would function as a sort of dance-music version of Inside Llewyn Davis. But the way Mia sees it, the idea is not that one succeeds where the other fails. “Some people may say they are rivals, but to me they aren’t,” she explains. “The main thing for me is that nothing can take Paul’s connection with them away. Even their fame cannot take away from him the depth of his relationship to the music.”
Which isn’t to say that Eden is all B.P.M. euphoria and good times: Eventually, Paul struggles to move beyond the initial weekly party that helped him make his name. His partnership with his friend dissolves. Time passes, folks grow up, and Paul ends up alone, hooked on coke and left trying to figure out how not to be a DJ. The filmmaker didn’t want to ignore the presence of drugs in the scene or the notion that some folks didn’t know when to step away from the party, but she wasn’t out to make a cautionary tale, either. “The fact that things could become self-destructive doesn’t take away from the purity and the innocence of the feelings,” Mia claims. “There is something about this immaturity that some people can look at very negatively and say it leads nowhere. To me, it also has to do with the poetry of the present and the importance given to hedonism. “
Besides, for the Hanson-Løve siblings, burying their story under artificial ups and downs would have completely missed the point. It wasn’t about creating dramatic conflict; with Eden, they simply wanted to revisit a moment that’s stuck with them long after the music stopped. “All the stuff that we try to approach while we hear music or watch film or read novels,” she says, “I think we can find them inside reality without losing the poetry of it. Most movies about nightclubs create some fantasy world that doesn’t fit with anything that I’ve experienced in the past. My memories of this time are very strong and beautiful, and also partly painful and sad. But mostly, there was a sense of openness and freedom — a feeling that everything was possible.”