Remember years ago when you were in high school? Feels like yesterday, right? Ugh! But yesterday, your boss hounded you all day, and those brief 24 hours were a lifetime. Our experience of time is an odd thing. A moment feels like it’s passing slowly, but once it’s gone, we wonder how it went by so fast. Mia Hansen-Love’s new film, Eden, uses our experience of time as a tool for empathy and thematic reflection.
Sharing many formal similarities to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood–a 12 year odyssey where actors aged with the characters as a boy, Mason, matures through unlinked significant events–Hansen-Love’s film traces a DJ navigating the rise of house music in France during the 90s. We follow him over the course of two decades as the world around him evolves: overgrown boys grow into family men, slacker junkies wake up to get real jobs, one night stands fade into more meaningful relationships, and Garage-music (a type of house) withers. Other than the context, the most crucial difference between Linklater’s film and this one is that unlike Mason, Paul, the DJ, is a vampire–not only does his physical appearance remain stagnant over twenty years, but his maturity level is trapped in the prison of his early twenties. Like the backbeat in a house track, Paul’s lifestyle is repetitive, euphoric, and melancholic. He plays shows, sleeps with his girlfriends, and does cocaine. What changes, creating the rise and fall arc of the film, is the shift in the world–the international house club scene.
One of the film’s interesting and evocative layers is that Paul becomes a metaphor for Garage music at large. While its popularity rises to international fame, Paul is satisfied with his lifestyle; however, when the genre begins to fade, Paul becomes depressed. Like the genre’s inability to evolve into the modern EDM and dubstep that reigns today, Paul withers into obscurity, refusing to change his sound as he plays at weddings and small underground venues.
Not only does his arc reflect the popularity in the genre, but his values are so closely bound to it. In one scene his mother warns him of the dangers of ecstasy, because the club culture is closely entangled with drugs and intoxication. During another moment, Paul describes his music as “euphoric” and “melancholic,” which is also a fitting description of his reality: the dreamy and careless lifestyle hides the deeper despair lurking beneath the surface. As the film slowly progresses, there is a gradual shift in tone from bliss to depression, because it is simultaneously a reflection of the film’s world and Paul’s psyche.
Eden’s problems have to do with how the tonal shift is expressed aesthetically. Shooting with the conventions of French social realism–mundane colors (with the exception of the club scenes), handheld camerawork, wide shots, and long takes–Hansen-Love never captures Paul’s euphoria in the early years; these sequences feel grounded rather than otherworldly. Like a ballroom dancer at an EDM club, the rhythm feels off: the music is upbeat, Paul is joyous, and the house scene is rapidly growing, but the editing and cinematography are slow and banal. If I had made the film, I would have used quicker cuts and tighter shots to create the infectious beat, while slowly transitioning into the social realism that permeates the film. Not only would the tonal shift have been more impactful, but the opening would not have been so dull.
After the first hour I was anxiously looking at my watch, desperately waiting for the end credits. It all felt repetitive and dull, but when the film’s themes and emotion took center stage and the effects of time began to affect the spectator and the character, it grew on me. This is a movie that feels like it’s never going to end while you watch it, but once it’s over you wish you could rewind it and start all over again.