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New Release Review - EDEN

Two decades in the life of a Parisian DJ.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Mia Hansen-Love

Starring: Felix de Givry, Pauline Etienne, Vincent Macaigne, Roman Kolinka, Arsinee Khanjian, Greta Gerwig, Brady Corbet



"Eden expresses itself in such a low key manner that it's all too easy to mistake its subtlety for superficiality. It's arguably the most interesting look at the power of language since Godard's King Lear."



Those of us in the English speaking world are often accused of being insular and lazy when it comes to learning foreign languages, but the simple truth is we lack the cultural motivation. Why would a schoolkid in Dublin, New York or London want to learn Portugese, Italian or Dutch? What's the motivation? On the other hand, kids in Paris, Berlin and Stockholm are desperate to learn English. The reason? It's the language of pop culture, the language of American movies, of British rock music. How often do German language movies infiltrate the Australian box office? How many foreign language songs will you find in the US Top 40? The international box office however is dominated by Hollywood, while the Top 40 singles charts of every European country is packed with music recorded in LA and London studios.
The '90s saw a shift in this dynamic, with European music filling the Top 40s of the Anglophone world, thanks to the emergence of dance music. Favouring a beat over lyrics, it created a level playing field. An act from Munich now had just as much chance of success as one from Manchester or Minneapolis. In Paris, a new wave of DJs and producers emerged, as obsessed with American disco music as their '50s cinematic counterparts were with American B movies, and it's this milieu that Mia Hansen-Love explores in Eden, roughly based on the exploits of her DJ brother Sven.
The Sven surrogate is Paul (Felix de Givry), who we first meet as an aspiring teenage DJ in 1992. Three years later he's making waves on the Paris club scene as part of a duo named Cheers. The movie follows Paul over the next two decades as he struggles to hold together the Venn diagram of Art-Hobby-Career while maintaining personal and romantic relationships.
Watching Eden initially I found it an infuriating watch. The Boyhood style structure, randomly jumping ahead in time to little narrative effect, means we struggle to get a grasp of just what drama we're supposed to be invested in here. The movie has a listless feel, reflected in its protagonist, who drifts through the movie in neutral, never expressing much in the way of emotion. As a former DJ, and someone with an anal knowledge of Disco and its offshoots, I was frustrated by the film's representation of this world. The movie is split into two parts, the first titled Paradise Garage, after the New Jersey nightclub where DJ Larry Levan invented a new sub-genre of disco, 'garage', and Paul speaks about his love for garage and Levan, but we never hear any of this on the soundtrack. Where is Loleatta Holloway's 'Love Sensation', NYC Peech Boys 'Don't Make Me Wait', or Levan's epic remix of Sister sledge's 'Lost in Music' (for which the second half of the movie is named)? One scene has Paul ask his sister to find the keys of LFO's 'Sweet Harmony', but any garage DJ worth their salt at that time would know the piano riff is lifted from CeCe Rogers' 'Someday'. A radio presenter speaks of making a documentary about Electro, which he claims began in Manchester with New Order; again, any dance music buff could tell you it originated in the Bronx. Regardless of the musical misrepresentation, we never get the sense that any of the protagonists actually care about this music, particularly Paul. Scenes of crate digging and lonely all-night rehearsals are conspicuously absent, and we only hear Paul mix once, so we never know whether he has talent or not. 
As a movie about DJing, Eden is a missed opportunity and an abject failure, but I don't believe this is Hansen-Love's concern, and the movie has a lot of interesting things to say, but it expresses itself in such a low key manner that it's all too easy to mistake its subtlety for superficiality. It's arguably the most interesting look at the power of language since Godard's King Lear, stressing the cultural imperialism of the Anglophone world. When Paul's long-suffering mother mispronounces his job title as "DG", he corrects her; "It's DJ, as in the English J." Paul has a side interest in poetry, favouring American poets. In a quietly crushing moment, Paul erases a doodle made years earlier by a troubled cartoonist friend from a whiteboard, replacing it with what appears to be a short poem, one artform (Gallic, visual) making way for another (Anglo-Saxon, literary). His house music duo is of course named after an American sitcom. When Parisian clubbers sing along to the superficial lyrics of house music, how many of them understand their meaning? In a recurring gag that would delight Godard's Professor Pluggy, two characters are refused entry to nightclubs when presenting their meaningless given names, only to be treated like Gods upon being identified as the duo Daft Punk.
There's a thin line between cultural appropriation and cultural imperialism, which Paul discovers when he pays for an African-American soul singer to perform at his club. More demanding than he expected, Paul is taken aback, believing he's doing her a favour by exposing her talents to Paris, but the singer's agent sees it differently; her client is the one making all the sacrifices in her eyes. This isn't Paul's culture, he's simply borrowing it because he's disillusioned with his own. This realisation crushes Paul, turning him away from music and back into poetry. It's telling that a 130 minute long examination of a French musical subculture ends with a poem read in English, for many the language of youth, and for Parisians literally the language of liberation, as Paul is culturally reborn, about to fill a new playlist with someone else's words.




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