It’s hard not to set certain expectations for a movie that starts with a cartoon phoenix shooting across the sky like a bolt of electricity. I would expect less, though, for such an affectation to be present in a Mia Hansen-Love film, her work up to this point being touched by the bliss and heartache of lives lived. If Eden is a departure in any way, it’s that its lead character seems to be the only one not living his, though he defiantly believes otherwise. What draws Paul (Felix de Givry, precariously perched between pretty and handsome) away from a Parisian rave into fog obscured forest at the start of the film is unplaceable, but we soon find it’s a more tranquil escape than the one he commits himself to seeking. Following him through the garage music scene from the 1990s through to 2013, it’s almost as though he’s chasing the immersive, hyper-stylized film a cartoon bird usually signifies.
For some audiences, they too may be grappling with a dissatisfaction over not losing themselves to dance. While we spend lengthy portions observing the raves and parties Paul and his friends explore and later make a penniless career hosting, it distinctly makes a point of rarely submitting to any level of desired immersion. Paul’s activities being roughly based on those of Mia Hansen-Love’s brother Sven, co-writer on the film, one wonders just how close the events of the film ring to Sven’s life. We can tell at the very least that Mia understands the ecstasy the musical environment instills, but that she understands the emotional and intellectual dangers of them. Any one of the songs making up Eden‘s soundtrack – ranging from Daft Punk to… others who aren’t at nearly the same level of popularity this late in their careers – could allow one to retreat to their deepest emotional corners. Hansen-Love merely looks at the consequences of Paul retreating into himself.
Not that there isn’t a joy to it for a time, just as every movement has its sweet spot. The best signifier for the period’s rises and falls comes from whoever Paul’s girlfriend is at the time, a fluctuating position which illustrates much about how male romantic dynamics are occupied more with filling a position rather than thinking about who’s filling them. Greta Gerwig’s brief presence at the start feels perhaps the most natural given how mutually immature the two are during that period. A more recurring companion soon arrives in Louise (Pauline Etienne, the film’s greatest emotional weapon in disarming Paul’s intangible fantasies), whose confident enthusiasm is a sweet match with Paul’s – we first see her in a Wonder Woman costume, as clear a sign as any that she’s the one to save Paul from himself – but as time and tragedy take their toll, we see her confronting the emotions and worldly demands that Paul apathetically avoids.
From there it feels like the same song’s still playing on a perpetual loop, like opening credits tune “Sueno Latino (Derek May Illusion First Mix)”, finding the same ecstatic beat played out over a long, largely indifferent duration, but with new elements gained and exhausted ones dropped. Paul’s most constant companions remain his fellow DJs, primarily Cyril (Roman Kolinka), already an aging DJ on the fringes of good taste at the film’s start, though that’s not to imply his tastes are bad. A prolonged defense of Showgirls to a disbelieving crowd is evidence enough that even the most publicly derided opinions never die. Far worse is Paul’s predictable spiral down the rabbit hole of drugs, a plot development even Hansen-Love seems aware of as being passe. “Cocaine is healthier than marijuana,” a self-evidently bullshitting Paul states, indicative of how ignorantly he submits himself to a life he’s not yet aware is a tough one to kick.
As the years flash by in a matter of minutes, the rapid diminishing of Paul’s possibilities, which is clear to us as soon as an adviser claims his promising future in writing is no more, finally reveals itself to him as his male gaze latches onto any female partner optional. It may be lost on viewers that Paul ought to be nearing his 40s by the end of Eden, his chances at a full life even more bleakly devastated than Channing Tatum’s in the similarly youth concerned Magic Mike. Paul’s lack of development as a character feels a bit distractingly locked into his continual absence of maturation, adding to the feeling that Eden could stand to circle deeper into his non-replenishing head space. It’s the denial of that compulsion to meet with its characters’ waylaid ideologies, though, that makes Eden such a compelling depiction of life singularly in stasis while others are in living motion.
Bottom Line: Encapsulating the garage music scene without losing itself to it, Eden is a luminous, heartrending film about the life-altering pitfalls of passion.