Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sundance ’15: Eden

An aspiring French garage DJ does not plan well for the future. That probably isn’t so shocking. Frankly, it is rather surprising just how long he can keep the party going. Nonetheless, when he crashes, he flames out hard in Maria Hansen-Løve’s Eden (trailer here), which screens during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

In 1992, the garage scene was still fresh and new. At least that is how it sounded to Paul Vallée. While attending a rave in a decommissioned submarine, he has something of a musical epiphany, as his friends partake of more hedonistic indulgences. It is moment Hansen-Løve renders almost magically—and it will help compensate for most of Vallée’s horrendously irresponsible behavior that follows.

Together with his chum Stan, Vallée forms a DJ duo known as “Cheers” that will enjoy the curse of early success, but it pales in comparison to breakout fame achieved by their real life colleagues Daft Punk. Girl friends come and go, as Cheers evolves into a satellite radio gig and eventually a hand-to-mouth nightlife promotion business. Perversely, Vallée seems to do more drugs as the money gets scarcer, burning through his inheritance and thoroughly trying his mother’s patience.

The style of music is different, but if you have read one or two jazz biographies, you will immediately recognize the trajectory of the narrative. However, the details of the garage or “French Touch” scene are definitely legit, thanks to screenwriter Sven Hansen-Løve (the filmmaker’s brother), who based the film on his own DJ career (hopefully somewhat loosely).

There is no doubt Vallée’s self-absorbed narcissism gets old quickly. The special guest star presence of Greta Gerwig and Brady Corbet (as Vallée’s American ex and her yuppie husband) only further buttresses its nauseating hipsterness. Yet, Eden is so immersive, it simply pulls you into its world, making you feel it in a sensory, tactile way. Even if French electronic music is not your bag, you will get it during Eden.

As Vallée, Félix de Givry is a bit of a cold fish, who is often hard to read. At times, he comes across like a borderline sociopath, which is rather effective in the film’s overall dramatic context. Arguably, the successive women who take him on as a project really supply the film’s soul. In a performance of great power and fragility, Pauline Etienne acutely expresses the resentment and self-doubt of Louise, the one that got away, but somehow can’t make a clean break of it. Likewise, Iranian exile Golshifteh Farahani (a one-time performer in Tehran’s underground music scene) portrays Yasmin (perhaps Vallée’s last, best chance for a healthy relationship) with tremendous warmth and sensitivity. It is also something of a bold turn for her, considering how much of Eden the current Iranian regime would object to, starting with the decadent music.

Who knew French garage DJs could carry such an epic? Probably more years pass in Eden than Doctor Zhivago, but it is still very much an in-the-moment, experiential kind of film. It is sort of exhausting, but it is worth seeing for exactly that reason. Recommended to a surprising extent, Eden screens this coming Tuesday (1/27) and Wednesday (1/28) in Park City, during this year’s Sundance.