Though her reputation in this country is confined to cinephiles, Mia Hansen-Love is one of France's top young directors, and her fourth film, "Eden," showcases her exceptional skills in an unexpected way.
Certainly on the surface, "Eden" sounds like a film with a very limited audience. Co-written by Hansen-Love and her brother Sven and based on his personal experiences, it is a detailed examination of more than 20 years in the life of a French electronic music DJ in the Daft Punk era who specialized in a sound characterized as "New York garage with a Parisian twist."
But while "Eden's" story is definitely site-specific, a pop saga told from the inside that conveys considerable information about subjects like the differences between techno, house and garage music, Hansen-Love's gifts bring the film to another level as well.
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As her previous features (2007's "All Is Forgiven," 2009's "Father of My Children," 2011's "Goodbye First Love") demonstrate, Hansen-Love is an assured and naturally empathetic director who specializes in making us care more about her characters than seems likely at the outset.
Just as the film's title references two things, an early French music fanzine and the innocence of the original Garden of Eden, so "Eden's" entire story is a classic tale of youth and experience, of a particular generation that is both the same and different from those that came before.
We follow several people on this epic journey, but most especially a young man named Paul (Felix de Givry), who is passionate about this music and imagines himself having a career as a DJ at clubs and raves.
What will Paul and his friends make of their lives, their relationships? Will they capsize on the journey or survive? It is the birth and fate of a dream that we follow here, and few directors match Hansen-Love's ability to make us care about those questions.
Treating viewers like time travelers from another era (which, in effect, we are), "Eden" simply drops us into this scene without any preamble, beginning in November 1992 with a clandestine rave in, of all places, a mothballed submarine docked somewhere outside of Paris.
"Eden's" first section, "Paradise Garage" (named after the putative birthplace of garage music), introduces us to Paul. He's living at home with his mother and family and nominally in school, though music is what he and friends like the caustic caricaturist Cyril (Roman Kolinka) and fellow DJ enthusiast Stan (Hugo Conzemann) really live for.
Hansen-Love is especially good at capturing the mood of this youthful time of life: the excitement of being young and on the inside of something cool, feeling that this kind of music is the only thing keeping you alive and that no one understands it as you do.
Paul and Stan form a DJ combo they call Cheers, begin to play at parties and garner attention. Paul even has a brief affair with an older American woman named Julia (an unlikely role for Greta Gerwig), who awkwardly calls him "my super-hip schoolboy."
"Eden" proceeds to check in with Paul and his cohorts every two or three years, playing lots of music (the track list counts 42 songs) and following the course of their careers as well as their personal lives. Paul, for instance, rebounds from Julia's return to New York by hooking up with the feisty Louise (Pauline Etienne).
A career highlight for Paul is a 2001 trip to the U.S., where he gets to DJ at a big show at New York's PS 1 and meet one of his idols, garage pioneer Tony Humphries, who has a brief cameo playing himself.
"Eden's" second part, called "Lost in Music," starts a dozen years after "Paradise Garage" and deals, as might be expected, with issues that arise when what you start out doing for love ends up being done for money. No matter what is going on, Hansen-Love's talent for bringing us inside a specific world makes "Eden" an experience we all can connect to.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 2 hours, 11 minutes