A baggy, dead-end story of a Parisian garage DJ straining for Peter Pan agelessness, Eden bumps along with all the live-for-tonight randomness of its characters’ twilight habits. That is, until the bill comes due in a somber final act that belies much of the ecstasy- and champagne-fueled exaltation and romance that came before. One could take the entire thing, in fact, as a cautionary tale: Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be DJs.
Eden starts in 1992, when the rave scene still held the youth of Europe, ready for a party after the Cold War, in its thrall. Paul (Félix de Givry, flat and affectless), a quiet kid first seen sneaking out of a rave being held in a submarine to wander the woods in thrall to some hallucinogen, is engaged by a different kind of music: garage. More soulful than the average electronica being produced at the time, garage brings together Paul and his partner Stan (Hugo Conzelman) to form a DJing duo they call Cheers.
Jumping forward two, sometimes three years at a time, director and co-writer Mia Hansen-Love charts the rise of Cheers through the DJ ranks. Meanwhile, music trends rise and fall, and Paul’s love life ebbs and flows. He pines after an American writer (Greta Gerwig, wonderfully daffy amidst all the stolid Parisians) long after she’s forgotten him, and casually mistreats first one doting girlfriend, Louise (Pauline Etienne), than another, Yasmin (Golshifteh Farahani). As the ground shifts under his feet, Paul fails to notice, insisting that eventually success will come and Cheers will hit the big time. Paul is being dragged home in a drunken stupor by his friends early one morning when an old woman mutters “kids today.” His response, “I’m 34!” isn’t just a throwaway line.
Hansen-Love deftly glides past that moment when Cheers becomes more chore than passion for Paul. But after a few poorly attended shows and a stark discussion of finances with a club owner, we see that the DJ life is a job, and a frequently lousy one at that. Up to that point, Hansen-Love has packed the screen with night after night of confetti- and strobe-strewn success, all records and discovery and piling into cabs well after midnight with five best friends for parts unknown. But the clubs need customers packing the floor every night. And after awhile, they don’t want to hear garage. A neat running gag through the film has Daft Punk, playing themselves, following Cheers up the ladder before leaping into global stardom, but still not being able to get past the bouncer at a nightclub. Because ultimately, who knows what even a famous DJ looks like?
Eden is not a cautionary tale, but the film is studded with unease over Paul’s refusal to live a life outside his cocaine-huffing and increasingly sterile spinning. On more than one occasion, the free-flowing party brings to mind that line of William’s mother in Almost Famous when she drops him off at a Black Sabbath concert: “An entire generation of Cinderellas, and there’s no glass slipper.”
There would have been more meaning to this all, though, if Hansen-Love had infused the film with any urgency or poignancy. Her previous films, like the achingly romantic Goodbye, First Love, have been sprawling affairs, so Eden’s loose and floating quality is no shock. Focusing so intently on an uninteresting character, though keeps the film stuck in its melancholic, garage-scored haze. The film doesn’t fail to connect because Paul’s a jerk; audiences have cheered for many a jerk. But he’s a passive jerk, and inhabited by de Givry with such a graveyard lack of charisma that it’s difficult to pay attention to what he’s doing, much less care about the outcome.
That’s a problem for Eden as a whole. For all its deft camerawork and appealingly dreamy structure, it doesn’t have much at stake. The film never even makes an argument for Cheers being anything more than just another couple of party DJs. There is only so much interest that can be sustained by people spinning records by other artists.