There's always a very special frisson in seeing a director stretch her wings and gain in confidence, insight and stature with each new film. It's even more of a surprise when that same director doesn't necessarily feel the need to change that much from her previous work, and simply limns and polishes what was already there - something that very few filmmakers are allowed to do in these days of dwindling financing.
All hail French director Mia Hansen-Løve, then, whose bittersweet emotional Bildungsromane of people learning to live lives that are constantly changing are painted on a wider and more expansive canvas in her fourth feature, Eden, a low-key saga about a generation that came of age in the 1990s to the tune of the French disco/house/garage music scene led by the ubiquitous Daft Punk. Again taking inspiration from those around her - here her older brother Sven, a co-writer on the project and an actual successful DJ in the Paris house scene at the time - Ms. Hansen-Løve creates an impressionistic overlay of well-observed, apparently banal comings and goings that gains its power from precisely that slow-burn accumulation of moments in the life of Paul.
A bourgeois kid whose passion for music leads him to abandon literary studies to become an immensely popular DJ, Paul risks riding a wave that may leave him stranded in giving himself entirely to music - and part of the director's touch is in showing, unsentimentally and unjudgmentally, the life, love and work strands that twist and turn around him while he's effectively a kid let loose in a candy store. Though set in the world of DJing and night-life, it's not so much a film about music as it is a story about life. As portrayed by the perpetually wide-eyed and levitating Félix de Givry, at the centre of a fluid group of performers ebbing and flowing over the 20 years the tale spans, Paul is at the same time witness and actor in a life that is perpetually spinning in and out of control. He and his friends start out as wide-eyed innocents, pumped up by a chance to change the world into something better, but at what point do you really grow up when the fun starts becoming a full-time job, when life, adulthood, responsibility, collide head-on with the dream?
Split, as usual in Ms. Hansen-Løve's work, into a game of two halves separated by the high water mark of Paul's popularity, Eden doesn't seem to say much until you realise how the director has effectively enveloped you and made you care for these characters while you weren't looking, her simple handling and attentive way with flow, tempo and rhythm judiciously balancing laughter and tears, dream and reality. It might be risky to point out how much Ms. Hansen-Løve's work is akin to the equally zeitgeist-straddling, romanesque films of her husband, Olivier Assayas, but it's truly meant as a compliment; in many ways, Eden could be her generation's version of Mr. Assayas' equally attentive Something in the Air, though less political, more lost in music.
But, beyond all comparisons, this is also a leap forward for Ms. Hansen-Løve as a director, and a marvelously touching melodrama of growing up and growing old, of learning the ropes as you go along.
Cast Félix de Givry, Pauline Étienne, Vincent Macaigne, Roman Kolinka, Hugo Conzelmann, Zita Hanrot, Vincent Lacoste, Arnaud Azoulay, Arsinée Khanjian, Greta Gerwig, Brady Corbet, Laura Smet, Golshifteh Farahani
Director Mia Hansen-Løve; screenwriters Ms. Hansen-Løve and Sven Hansen-Løve; cinematographer Denis Lenoir (colour, widescreen); designer Anna Falguères; costumes Judy Shrewsbury; editor Marion Monnier; producer Charles Gillibert; production companies CG Cinéma in co-production with France 2 Cinéma, Blue Films Production and Yundal Films, in association with François Pinault
Screened April 22nd 2015, Cinema City Alvalade 2, Lisbon (distributor press screening)