Standing Still in the Middle of the Dancefloor: A Review of Mia Hansen-Løve’s ‘Eden’

edenThere are many frustrating things about Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden, but only one of them is symptomatic of the limitations that “serious cinema” has imposed on itself in the past few years. By the way, I’ve decided to use the word “serious cinema” to identify a group of films -mostly foreign and mostly European- that are regarded as prestigious works from prestigious filmmakers without being as extreme in their aesthetics to be considered avant-garde cinema. I’m talking about the movies by directors such as Olivier Assayas, Xavier Dolan, Abdellatif Kechiche, and other Cannes favorites. The thing all those directors -and Eden- have in common? The movies are too long.

Sure, Hansen-Løve is telling a story that spans more than a decade in a DJ’s life, but the movie’s aimless and redundant nature make 131 minutes feel like an eternity. There is no particular reason for the movie to be as long as it is. It constantly feels like the director is just sprinkling scenes in order to make the movie longer. But why the necessity to make things longer? Why the necessity to hammer the point your movie is making over and over again. Why the belief that endless repetition is necessary for your audience to “get” your message? I think length has become synonymous with prestige, and challenging the patience of your audience with being a worthy filmmaker.

As an audience member, I’ll be the first one to admit that I like being challenged by movies, but I also like to be engaged by them. I think these filmmakers have forgotten about the economy that made so many movies -short and long- amazing works of art int the past. How one line or one shot is enough to color a movie with endless amounts of information. What are we gaining by making our movies longer and stuffing them with superfluous repetition that doesn’t change or color the plot or characters in any new way?

Now, there will be those who say that Hansen-Løve is using repetition on purpose. That she is letting us know how Paul (Felix de Givry), the protagonist of her movie, is trapped in his own vicious cycle. That he fails to grow as a person. I have a couple objections to that notion. Any contemporary moviegoer is savvy enough to recognize the tropes of filmmaking, and to recognize a character that is stuck in his own bullshit from just a couple of scenes. Second, what are we suppose to gain from the experience of being numbed by watching a character spiral onto his own self-created hell? Especially when the character is a cardboard black hole like Paul?

I guess this is as good a point as any to start talking about the movie itself. Eden is a recounting of the “garage” music scene that developed in 1990s France. The protagonist is a young man who dreams of making it big as a DJ, but ends up on the margins of the dance music wave. The character is based on the director’s brother -Sven Hansen-Løve- who was himself a DJ dreaming of making it big, and shares co-writing credit with her. I think the Hansen-Løve siblings have failed in believing that other people will find the Sven’s story as fascinating as they do. Maybe they feel a special attachment because they know the people involved in it?

As a final product, Eden has very little forward momentum. Things just seem to happen to Paul, as obsesses with becoming a successful DJ and is led into a depressing rot. As such, the movie is the study of a character and of a particular time and place. As a character study, it fares particularly bad. Mostly because after watching more than two hours of film I can tell you very little about Paul as a character, except that I found him irritating and very uncharismatic. He is engaged in a number of romantic relationships through the years, and every time I failed to grasp why any of these women would be attracted to him. I guess that’s one of the perks of being a DJ?

As a study of a particular time and place, I guess the movie does a little better. Although it spends so much time focusing on Paul that none of the supporting characters are given much depth. Not Paul’s music partner, who probably gets a total of five lines, nor any of his lovers, whose inner life remains relatively obscure. And what little we get from these characters doesn’t make them seem very likable. They have fluffy talks about the nature of their music, and other types of art. Paul in particular is so unkind to his girlfriends and his mother that I guess we are supposed to find him irritating on purpose.

We get a few amusing scenes with the members of Daft Punk -a band that did manage to make it big off this dance music craze- but they’re mostly there to place the story within a similar frame to Life of Brian or Inside Llewyn DavisBoth stories about outsiders living on the shadows of more famous performers (if you excuse me calling Jesus a performer), but both with characters more interesting than Paul. The movie’s failures really come down to its investment on Paul as an anchor for this story. It does feel a little like Sven is doing a Chris Farley Show style “remember when this happened?” recount of his time as a DJ.

As far as the filmmaking is concerned, Hansen-Løve’s realistic style has the camera roaming freely around the characters, but their lives are far too mundane to inspire any enthusiasm. The dance sequences are distant, presented without passion. One of the movie’s parts is subtitled “lost in the music”, but we never see the characters lose themselves in the passion. The most interesting stylistic touch of the movie is the director’s use of editing to jump through time at surprising moments and generate major ellipses in the narrative. Sadly, there is little thematic meat for the audience to fill those ellipses with any meaningful information concerning what might have happened. After all, the movie hinges on its main character remaining in one place and refusing to change his ways.

Grade: 4 out of 10

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