Read my “rave” review of French house music movie Eden – including the full listings of the original motion picture soundtrack.
A tribute to the French Touch house scene of the late 1990s, Eden is like a good old-fashioned night out – a euphoric, hands-in-the-air movie and a sobering come down.
Director Mia Hansen-Love is one of my favourites, all the more now I know she and I probably shared a few dance floors back in the day. Her brother, Sven Hansen-Love, was a very popular DJ in 90s Paris, running club nights and hosting a radio show on the FG station, and it is his story younger sis tells here, with Sven collaborating on the script and – most crucially – the music selection.
But aside from inducing a wave of recall that rushed through me while watching, the film works a classic spell of hedonistic youth meeting jaded experience.
It’s divided into two lengthy halves, Paradise Garage and Lost in Music. The first details the rise of the scene, from outdoor raves in the French countryside to the indoor club nights. It being Paris, the garage scene was smaller and more select than, say, here in the UK and it gave birth to the mighty Daft Punk, who feature here as a running joke as well as a musical motif – nobody recognises the duo and they are repeatedly refused entry to club nights.
The story, such as it is, follows Paul (Felix de Givry) and Stan (Hugo Conzelmann) as they begin DJ-ing and become obsessed with the soulful, piano-soaked beats of US house and garage and give it that disco-ish French twist that shot Daft Punk, Cassius, Dmitri et al from Paris to world wide prominence.
Paul’s tragedy is that he and his ironically-named “Cheers” club nights are always just in the shadows, never quite at the top of the big time tree, although he has plenty of fun while it lasts and his parties are all the cooler for it.
The French touch of the movie, however, is its Left Bank-style, studenty intellect, which gives it a rambling, existential ennui that curls around the characters like so much cigarette smoke. It becomes a film about youth, friendship, sex, commitment and self-expression, but it’s also about growing up and trying to make currency out of the music, something Paul can’t really do – he just likes putting on records, snorting coke and seeing everyone dance to his tunes.
The second half of the movie, while still bursting with tunes, is sadder, a definite slip into the come-down as various girlfriends slip from his grasp, debts mount up and the drugs take hold. But Hansen-Love never hammers her points home – she’s a wonderfully intuitive and subtle director, concerned with gentle gradations of the characters’ heart and soul rather than thumping plot points.
I loved Eden and recognised it all, from the raves in the woods, to the ecstasy-filled floors, to the big tunes (Follow Me, Caught in the Middle, Get Up Everybody, Da Funk, Sunshine People), the PAs from India and Toni Humphries, the parties on the barges, the early morning post party dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, the gig at the PS1 art space in New York.
It has to be without doubt the film that best captures the thrill of the dance floor and the spirit of being in a club, its party scenes skilfully shot and recorded.
But what makes the film special is, I think, its gift of universality. You don’t have to be of that generation. It could be about punk, new wave, grunge, Northern Soul, New Romantics, Madchester, Ibiza – whatever youthful subculture you fancy. Being French, it’s a terrifically different and super cool anti-coming-of-age movie – the actual growing up here is depicted as debatable and sad, rather than necessary or transformative as you’d get in Hollywood or British movies. Paul doesn’t seem ready to leave childish things behind him. Rather, he knows the best time of his life is in the past, and that melancholy informs the whole film.
The constant soundtrack is smart, too, because you never want the music to end. When one track stops, the film is as addicted as you, the viewer, to get another one on quick, as if the ugliness of reality, the ordinariness of a life without beats or soaring vocals, would be impossible to bear.
Right, I’m off to sit in the dark and listen to Jaydee’s Plastic Dreams.