“Music will just become noise”
When Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash was nominated for Best Picture at the 2015 Oscars, it marked a new chapter in the mainstream popularity of films focused on, and defined by, a passion for music. While Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden shares few qualities with Chazelle’s overwhelming, intense and operatic drumming thriller, it’s an equally memorable exploration of a young man’s relationship with the music that affects him so deeply.
When I mention Whiplash to the film’s star, Félix de Givry, he acknowledges the similarity:
“We have been talking about biopics and stuff- these films about extraordinary lives- more than normal lives, and music is a good background to talk about normal stories. Even Whiplash, where the script has more ups and downs, surprises, where his life is more extraordinary than in Eden, there is something about the normal guy.”
The lead character of Eden is Paul, a semi-fictional representative of co-writer Sven Hansen-Løve, who himself was a major figure in the French electronic music scene of the 1990s. According to Sven:
“It’s a mixture of real things, real anecdotes, some things my sister (director/co-writer Mia) invented, some things that I invented, some things that I think were real but i’m not so sure anymore because my memory fails me. So it’s a mixture… probably half of it is the truth or the reality, and half of it is more or less invented I suppose. It’s hard to say.”
The film follows a narrative through Paul’s life in the 90s and 2000s, but there is a strong documentary sensibility in the presentation of the music and its performance.
“There is also a documentary side to it of course, because we’re talking about a music scene, so we had to be really precise on all the details and that is an aspect also of documentary. Some people say it’s a docu-fiction in a way”
“There are things we thought would be dramatically interesting, even if it’s not real. All fiction is a bit like that I think. Even fiction that you think is completely invented but it’s not completely invented.”
Sven worked with Daft Punk early in his career, and they feature briefly in Eden. More prominent, however, is the use of their music in the film. Of this, Sven says:
“My sister really, really wanted to have the rights to all the songs before shooting, because she wanted to shoot all the scenes knowing what song she’d put in each scene. She’s like a maniac, because she knew the exact timing… super precise… even though she could change it after editing, she had it super precise in her mind. And when we shot, she wanted to play the songs. When we shot a club scene, we had to shoot the same scene with the music and without the music. We had to have both, and had to have many takes with both things. It was absolutely necessary to know exactly which songs we were going to use. There was a lot of work into getting the rights beforehand.”
Similarly, the use of locations gives a strong sense of authenticity to the staging of key sequences in the film:
“It depended on the places. We got to go to almost all of them, and it was rather easy for many of them. We had a rough time with the Queen. We found out that we could not shoot there, and when they eventually gave us the green light we had already decided to shoot somewhere else that was easier. We found a place that looked exactly like the Queen and we called it the “King”, which is kind of a joke of course. The funniest thing is: some people watched the film who had went to the Queen and didn’t know that it was not the Queen. We had a great production designer, and it really looked like the Queen.”
Being from very different generations, I was interested in Sven and Félix’s different experiences. Of his prior knowledge of the music, Félix says:
“I had organised street parties in Paris with my friends, so in a way I was related to it, but I was not very much a specialist of the 90s. For me, the 90s is somewhat of a black hole. So many people know the same track, which is Daft Punk and all the things that emerged from it, but the real rave scene was not documented because there was no internet at the time, and traditional media didn’t really care when it expoloded at first. So the project for me was really interesting in that aspect because it enabled me to dig into that.”
“The shadow of [Sven’s] generation is huge on my generation, because they were the first people to do it in France. They were the first people to believe in electronic music: to create and produce. As in every art, the pioneers are the ones who are setting the rules. So, they set rules which are very important not only in terms of production but for DJs. For example: Daft Punk. Just the way they produced their first albums in home studios. It’s influenced a whole generation, including mine, of producers.”
Did Sven and Félix work closely together on fleshing out the Paul character before production started?
“We talked about souvenirs, about things that aren’t in the script. Or I talked to his friends; looked at pictures, footage, music; he gave me the comic-book that is in the film. So, we never really set a date to meet and have me sitting for two hours taking notes, but it was a discussion, and from the very beginning we said that Paul was a character and it was never a matter of copying Sven completely.”
Though his terrific performance implies experience, Eden is only Félix’s second feature film. His first: Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air. I inquire as to how he would compare the experiences of working with these two directors:
“On Olivier’s film I had a much smaller role. On Eden we shot 54 days and I was there 53 days, so it was not the same collaboration. In a way, their cinema talks to each other. Their film is a dialogue, but they are very different on set. Olivier does not really talk to his actors, while Mia is very talkative. She knows what she wants, and she talks a lot. So, in that regard, it’s very different.”
When I ask, separately, about Sven and Félix’s opinions on the changing landscape of the 90s and 00s and how it affected electronic music, they are largely in agreement. Félix:
“I think my generation is a lot more anxious. What I say about the 90s is: it’s this generation between the Berlin Wall and the Twin Towers. So it was this generation of deep innocence, and they were able to live everything in a very carpe diem way- enjoy the day, seize the day etc.- and that is very different from my generation. Also, the drugs people take- in the 90s they took ecstasy, which reflects this kind of spirit, my generation take more MDMA and substances like that. It’s interesting in what it says about the generation and how people consume this music.”
Sven approached Eden with a similar approach:
“With my sister, we think there are two time periods. The very positive, optimistic time period when the film starts in the 1990s when people were less anxious and weren’t thinking so much about the future. We were thinking, as young people, that everything is going to go well for us, and we would have money, work and be creative and everything, but things changed starting in the year 2000, especially with 9/11. It’s a middle point when things started to change and there was a financial crisis and crime crisis and the terrorism. For young people, they are more worried about their future and everything, and that is reflected in the music. The music is more deep, I think, it’s less happy, but that doesn’t mean it’s better or worse or anything. It’s just different.”
They also share a stance on the film’s overbearing sense of a love story between Paul and his beloved music:
“The first time I read the script, I thought this was a film about a guy who couldn’t build his life because his first love story was a love story with music and not with a girl. [One] could also read it in a way in which he doesn’t built his sentimental life. I realised it was much more about the music… Paul was not a dramatic character, and I wouldn’t think about how he built his love story and stuff. It was really about him getting to build a character who’d melt into music.”
…Félix tells me. Sven, on the other hand, says:
“The main character: his main love story is for music, and he has this passion and goes crazy because of that, the same way you could go crazy for the love of one person. You can lose yourself, and lose your sense of reality and everything. That’s why he has so many girlfriends and it’s changing all the time, because those girlfriends realise they have to share this guy with someone else. And that someone else isn’t someone real, it’s the music, and that’s what makes it very complicated for him to have a serious relationship with anyone, because he’s so much in this love affair with music.”
“At one point, he realises that the music he loves doesn’t evolve any more. Just like himself: he can’t change, he can’t evolve. He’s stuck in something, he’s stuck in the time period, in his own personal life, he’s stuck in the parties. He can’t wake up. He needs to realise that the party’s over in a way, but he can’t do that. The music he loves, especially the garage, doesn’t evolve anymore. It’s dying. The parties I’ve done the last few years: it was pretty intense, but we all knew the music was seeing it’s last moments and is going to be different soon. There’s definitely a similarity between the character’s journey and the music.”
One notable member of Eden’s supporting cast is Greta Gerwig, one of the biggest stars in American independent cinema. I note that Eden seems, in many ways, to have been influenced by the sort of American films an actor like Gerwig would be involved in. Félix agrees:
“Absolutely. There is vivid cinema in America right now… maybe it is just because the grass is always greener. For instance, the whole crew of Borderline Films, this group have something very independent and very fresh, but still very rooted to traditional cinema- they want to shoot their films on film, for example- but there is something happening. A lot of films that I personally admire are America indie films, for sure.”
Finally, I ask Sven and Félix, two men from different generations with very different experiences of electronic music, what’s next for this music?
Sven, one of the world’s leading experts on this genre:
“It’s only getting bigger and bigger, as there’s more access because of the internet. In theory, it can only get better. You get a lot of crap, but you also get so much great music. I’m sort of optimistic for dance music, but I just wonder if a really new fresh style is going to happen. I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a lot of new great artists.”
Félix also has interesting thoughts:
“I have a friend who thinks it’s just going to become noise. There is a music called “drone music” without beats. It’s just a buzz [makes buzzing noise over the phone]. He’s a really hardcore believer that electronic music is going to go this way… just noise music. Personally, I think it’s going to go back to very live music… instruments, something more human, more live.”
Eden is released in UK and Irish cinemas Friday July 24.
Originally published at buzzhub.wordpress.com on July 22, 2015.