In Eden, director Mia Hansen-Løve chronicles the ascent of “French touch” music in the 90s, as seen through the eyes of Paul (Félix de Givry) a young DJ who is confident he will be able to find success in a musical career. Spanning almost two decades, the film successfully serves as a rich history of electronica (a tongue-in-cheek subplot sees Paul’s friends form the duo Daft Punk) while also painting a complex personal epic, as Paul becomes a Godfather like figure, with much less violence of course, as we see the rise and fall of his empire due to drugs, alcohol, and changes in public taste.
Mia, co-wrote the screenplay with her brother Sven Hansen-Løve, who served as the inspiration for the character of Paul. A music promoter and DJ, Sven’s anecdotes help give the film the authenticity that can only come from true life experiences. The film therefore is populated with rich scenes in which the characters talk about things that seem like they happened ages ago, interspersed with hypnotic musical sequences that perfectly capture the euphoria of rave/electronica culture.
We had the opportunity to sit with star Félix de Givry and co-writer Sven Hansen-Løve to talk about how the film came to happen, the things they miss the most about the 90s and whether Eden would make for a good Broadway musical.
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I have the impression that the dance music scene in Europe was always much cooler than what was going on in America, so going to clubs here, did you find it much different than what was going on in Europe?
Sven: Why do you feel that it was kinda bad in the States?
It was always more pop-oriented here, and watching Eden you see how in France there were all these tiny hole-in-the-wall places where people were doing so many different kinds of music.
Sven: I think there are some underground clubs here, you just need to know the places and the people, and you really have to be into the scene to know where to go. In Europe the main music is really bad, but of course in the film we show you what we loved the most and what we think were the best clubs and events. We’re not showing you the bad ones [laughs] and believe me they are not any better than the ones in the States. In a city like Berlin, there are very few bad clubs, but in Paris for example we have many, many, many bad clubs.
Also, in terms of how we see the Daft Punk subplot and how they evolved because they were loved in this culture, while in America it took them a longer time to break through. For a while all people knew were “Around the World” and “One More Time”, until they did that huge album with Pharrell Williams. So, compared to France, it took them much longer to achieve popularity here.
Sven: Well they’re French and French people tend to be very protective of their things. Before Daft Punk though, French music wasn’t very popular, there weren’t many artists who were successful beyond France, all we had was bad rock and roll. Thanks to Daft Punk France became trendy again, so French people loved that Daft Punk was showing a good side of the country, with their creativity and popularity, and they’re so successful in a good way, not cheesy.
Félix, you did Something in the Air which is kinda like Eden for the 70s in a way, and in this movie you’ve covered the 90s and 00s. How did this come to happen? Are you planning to cap it off with an 80s epic next?
Félix: I’d love to work on an 80s movie, they were great! Olivier Assayas and I were living together, so there’s a relationship between both of these movies, I think the idea of doing Eden came from doing Something in the Air, it was a sort of echo. The former is Mia’s youth and the latter is Olivier’s, so maybe if someone does an 80s movie they’ll call me. I recently saw Dazed and Confused and it’s really great.
Sven, Mia was really young when you were bringing all these records home. Were you the big obnoxious brother who annoyed her with his loud music or was she trying to get into it as well?
Sven: Both? She was kinda fascinated, because at that time I had that “big brother” thing where the little sister kinda admires you. I also remember once in a while I’d play the music too loud and she would come to my room to ask me to turn it down. She was fascinated with it though and you get a sense of that watching the film, I think her motivation for the film was related to an old fascination she had when she was a teenager. I think she wanted to recapture the feeling she had in those years.
Paul is loosely based on your own experiences too, did you feel that there were things you didn’t want to touch upon because they would be too personal? And Félix, working so close with the people who inspired the story did you have the liberty to add your own backstory to the character or did you feel like you had to ask Sven and Mia about all the details?
Sven: Two things: of course there were things I didn’t want to put in the film, especially things related to ex-girlfriends out of respect for them. Mia wanted this at one point, but I thought it would hurt the people involved. The other thing is Félix watched me but he also brought his own personality because Paul at the end is a character, I realized as soon as I wrote the script with my sister, that it was a character, he’s not either of us, he’s Paul.
Félix: It’s very strange because Paul goes through a lot, many emotions and life experiences, so I never felt I needed to do a replica of what Sven went through, I never asked Sven what hand he used to grab his coffee. It was never our intention to mimic the real thing, but the more I was going into the character, the more I drew elements from different people.
A character like Sven could easily vanish into the background and become a vessel instead of a human. Were you worried about this at any point?
Félix: I never felt the background would overtake the character, also because I know Mia’s films and they’re about characters, not so much about big scale things. I was worried it would be too much for the character at times because he goes through a lot of things, so it was all about finding the right beat, the right tempo in terms of editing between intimate scenes and more global scenes.
There aren’t many period films about this era, so watching the film I kept thinking of Twenty Four Hour People which tackles similar subjects in the 80s. Was this among the films that influenced Eden?
Sven: Absolutely, it was kind of an inspiration, we watched the film a few times but we didn’t want to reproduce that movie for many reasons, first of all it’s not the same scene or music, and the director has a different approach. But we liked that film a lot because it’s one of the rare films that tries to portray the clubs in an authentic way, but even if we didn’t want to do the same way it was interesting to understand how they did it. What is impressive in that film is that in the club scenes they mixed shots from real club moments, samples of shots made in real clubs, and they mixed it with extras, and it’s so well done.
Félix: It’s a balance between documentary and fiction.
Sven: It’s done in a way that you don’t even notice it. That was really interesting but we didn’t want to do that because Mia is really focused in authenticity, and she didn’t want to put real life images in the film.
Considering these events happened in the very recent past, was it strange to go back to all these places of your youth?
Sven: Yeah, that’s also another thing, it’s a period film of a period that’s very close to us. It was difficult because it’s a period that’s far and close at the same time, we didn’t have so many documentation, so we had to be true, realistic and authentic about this period which is close but very different. In the last ten to 20 years everything has changed, even the little details like smartphones. We shot one scene at PS1 in Queens, and it was the only scene we did with real people, we shot it and then when we watched it we saw the people had their smartphones out, so we had to use special effects to erase them.
Probably my favorite scene in Eden is where the characters discuss Showgirls and argue it’s a future classic. When I saw the film for the first time I’d just read It Doesn’t Suck: Showgirls by Adam Nayman, which argues a great case for the film as well. What things that you loved back then would you say are worthy of a critical reappraisal?
Sven: He used the dialogue from the film in the book too! Hmm, let me think. The music! A lot of the music, even the pop music, some mainstream pop music back then was quite good, some bands from the 90s are now considered classics, bands like De La Soul, their first album is huge now. Early hip-hop too, and some films of course. Some of the films of the 90s are still not good, but as time passes you realize what’s good and what’s not.
Were you concerned with this nostalgia making for a too romanticized version of the era?
Sven: Not really because I trust my sister and I knew in no way she wanted to romanticize anything. I was more afraid she would do something too realistic.
In terms of logistics, how was it to shoot the club scenes? Clubs are already hot and sweaty and when you add lights and a camera crew it must’ve been even hotter.
Félix: We didn’t have much lights actually, the DP used most of the club lights to light the scenes in order to be authentic. What was tricky was to hear Mia because she had to yell at us, but honestly it felt like a big party most of the time.
Sven: We had a great time! One of the scenes in a small club in New York was hard though, it was a lot of stress because it was tough to shoot, but in general they were fun. You mentioned the big crew, but everything in that particular situation was very exciting, we were very enthusiastic. It was thrilling to reproduce the old days, we had to focus and concentrate but it was fun!
Random question, at the 2014 New York Film Festival, Brady Corbet showed up in three different movies including Eden and Clouds of Sils Maria. Was the Assayas connection how he ended up in yours?
Félix: Saint Laurent as well! He’s friends with all the indie filmmakers.
Sven: Mia knows him, he’s a friend of ours. He’s a good guy, everybody knows him, he lives in Paris right now. I think Mia and Olivier like to have him pop up in films; it’s like a wink.
A film about music is a film about art, how is music culture related to film culture in France? Are there similar groups of people working on music as well as on film?
Sven: No, not really. In France the movie industry and the music industry are very separated, which is also why we had a tough time finding money to produce the film, because the producers and investors were all reluctant because these worlds are so separated. However there are also music people, like Daft Punk, who really love movies, in fact I think Thomas [Bangalter] wants to be a director.
There is a great scene in the movie where we see people in a club singing in English, and some of them don’t even know what they’re singing but they are so connected by the music that it doesn’t matter. Why do you feel music has this power to transcend language?
Sven: When I was promoting my parties in Paris we didn’t have a big crowd, but they were all very enthusiastic and passionate. Even though they didn’t speak English they learned the lyrics just by listening to them all the time because they came every week. Even if they didn’t know what they were singing, they loved the song, like you said, they felt linked in some way. The music moves you.
The funny thing about when we shot this scene in the movie was that we asked the extras to sing the songs, so we sent them the lyrics and the songs in advance. But even doing that wasn’t enough, so at the end when we were editing the film we had thirty people to come to the studio and we asked them to sing the songs. It was a very special moment. I also sang, it was a lot of fun to do, the editing was complicated because we wanted it to sound good but not too good.
Which brings me to my last question, I’ve been referring to the film as a “guerrilla musical” would you call Eden a musical? Regardless, do you have any affinity for musicals?
Sven: I would say it’s kind of a musical [Félix nods in agreement] because there is something of that in the feeling.
Félix: It was very choreographed as well.
Sven: I would say it’s a “low key musical”, but personally I love Broadway shows. I don’t think Mia knows them very well, but I love them. We obviously didn’t want to reproduce a Broadway show but there is a feeling of that in the film because the music is important and the way we introduce the music is almost like a musical.
Félix: The first thing we did in New York actually on our first day was the scene at the end in the credits and Mia asked me to learn the lyrics and she gave me a map of the places where I had to stand depending on the lyrics, and then she threatened me because I kept the mic on and she has recordings of me singing and I’m a very bad singer, so she tells me “if you do something bad, I have recordings of your singing!”