Mia Hansen-Løve’s intimate chronicle of the development of the French electronic music scene ends in daylight, but it opens in radiant darkness. It’s the night of a rave held in a submarine, and snatches of conversation and distant music can be heard as cigarettes glow in the darkness. As morning approaches, Paul (Félix de Givry) walks into a nearby forest. He looks up and imagines an animated bird, bright as stained glass, fluttering through the blue early-morning sky, before he is found by his friend Cyril (Roman Kolinka) and rejoins the others.
Beginning in the early Nineties and unfolding over two decades, Eden is divided into two parts: “Paradise Garage” and “Lost in Music.” Hansen-Løve co-wrote the screenplay with her brother, Sven, who was a DJ for 20 years before turning to writing. Much of the music on the soundtrack was key to Sven’s musical journey, and it is almost a character in the film, growing and changing as the story progresses. Hansen-Løve has an eye for emotionally resonant color, and in Denis Lenoir’s extraordinarily filmed party and club scenes, glowing reds, blues, and greens heighten the narcotic allure that the music has for the central characters.
“Paradise Garage” opens with a sense of pilgrimage, as young electronic music fans single-mindedly pursue knowledge—of everything from a party’s location to the notes or name of a song—and pleasure. Cyril documents their experiences in his cartoon art, while Paul and Stan (Hugo Conzelmann) form the duo Cheers, DJing “New York garage with a Parisian twist,” in the words of a radio host. Their preferred sensibility, Paul says, is located somewhere “between euphoria and melancholia,” which is also the mood of Eden.
In the harder, brighter days of the new millennium, the years begin to run together. Eventually, for some of the characters, freshness and optimism give way to disillusionment. On a U.S. tour during which he plays at PS1, Paul visits his former girlfriend, Julia (Greta Gerwig), an American writer who has found success and is now pregnant. “It’s crazy that you haven’t changed,” she says. Later, Paul tells another ex, Louise (Pauline Etienne): “You’re lucky you found balance, turning the page on the past.”
Although Eden is not a comprehensive account of the emergence of the “French touch” sound, the film incorporates historical details and ephemera that evoke the texture of real life, such as the zine that gives the film its title. The Daft Punk duo Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (Arnaud Azoulay) and Thomas Bangalter (Vincent Lacoste) make fleeting appearances, from their early days through the height of their fame. Among several of their tracks included in Eden is the delicately melancholy “Veridis Quo,” heard in a restaurant where Paul and his friends gather after the funeral of Cyril, who had just completed a graphic novel tied to the history of electro. It continues playing into the next scene, underlining the sense of loss that lingers even as the parties continue.
Whatever the cost, the pursuit of art is never pointless in Hansen-Løve’s films, whether for the drug-addicted poet in All Is Forgiven (07), the doomed film producer in Father of My Children (09), or the young woman who finds in architecture a balm for the pain of a lost love in Goodbye First Love (11). In Eden, Paul’s intoxication with garage music proves ruinous to his health and his relationship with the woman he loves the most, but when he can travel no further down that path, he is able to move on to writing, an interest that he had abandoned along the way, and appreciate the beauty of his past experiences.
Much as Goodbye First Love ends with the Johnny Flynn song “The Water,” which evokes the cycles of the natural world, Eden concludes with Robert Creeley’s “The Rhythm.” It’s in a collection a young woman in Paul’s writing class gives him, in a spontaneous gesture that is like a moment of grace for this exhausted pilgrim. “It is all a rhythm, / from the shutting / door, to the window / opening,” the poem begins. “Light at the opening, / dark at the closing,” it ends.