Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
What becomes clear pretty early on in Mia Hansen-Love's "Eden" is that despite the large roving ensemble of ravers and DJs and partiers, and despite the fact that there is a lead character, the dance-club "scene" is the real star of the film. "Eden" is an ode to French house-music (known as the "French touch"), and a portrait of the kids so inspired by DJ Larry Levan and the sound he developed at Paradise Garage that following his lead became not only a lifestyle-choice but a philosophy. The scene changes over time, starting out with underground raves in abandoned warehouses or old docked submarines, and morphing into parties at gigantic nightclubs with a velvet-rope policy at the door. "Eden" is long, but Hansen-Love's style is so observant and specific that it is always a compelling watch and ends up being sneakily profound. It also features one of the best soundtracks in recent memory, a history lesson of club music. The film is quite personal, despite its slow and insistent historical sweep, and it's co-written by Hansen-Love with her brother Sven, based on his experiences as a DJ in the French house scene.
"Eden" focuses on one kid, Paul (Félix de Givry), a university student obsessed with "Garage" music, and blowing off his dissertation because of his party schedule. He wants to be a DJ, and hangs around the DJ-tables at raves, asking questions, bonding over music. The DJ is the rock-star, powerful and glamorous. Paul's mother does not understand what her son is doing with his life. But Paul is devoted to music, and knows the kind of sound he wants to create, a mixture of "euphoria and melancholia." He has a partner in this pursuit, and they create themselves as a DJ duo called "Cheers," modeled in part on their idols, Daft Punk (who appear as themselves throughout the movie in a running gag where they try to get into clubs and nobody recognizes them).
If you remember the early-1990s rave scene, Hansen-Love's film will ring so true. Teenagers, through word of mouth, or cryptic messages placed in the back pages of fanzines, gathered in out-of-the-way places, often armed with secret passwords for entry, and got "lost in the music." Ecstasy rose as the drug of choice, bringing with it its famous warm-fuzzy feelings (as opposed to the more selfish high from cocaine in the '70s and '80s). You had to know where the party was. You sought it out. Over time, house music rose in influence, sweeping the world, and the DJs who started out spinning records at illegal raves in dilapidated abandoned buildings began to get better-paying gigs at high-class joints in places like St. Tropez. Hansen-Love is very interested in people, but she is more interested in the larger movement of their lives, and how time pushes them along and changes them (or doesn't).
Surrounding Paul is a large ensemble of good friends, and we get to know them almost by osmosis, typical of Hansen-Love's subtle approach. There's Arnaud (Vincent Macaigne), hilarious and bitter, haranguing his friends repeatedly about "Showgirls," screaming that it is a masterpiece and why won't they get that? There's Louise (Pauline Etienne), a sweet and supportive party girl, who dates Paul for a couple of years. Their relationship is intimate and intense. Cyril (Roman Kolinka) is an artist, working on a comic book, creating posters for Paul's DJ career, and battling depression. "Living at night depresses me," he says. Other people come and go. They enter the scene, and they leave it. Throughout "Eden," Mia Hansen-Love features different long takes where she follows a character through a rave, or a club, or a dance-party, through the gyrating thrashing throngs, the neon and the darkness pulsing through the frame along with the music. The scenes repeat. Denis Lenoir's cinematography is beautiful, evoking the eternal nature of the dance-club scene and yet sensitive to its nuanced changes, how it moved from DIY to corporate.