The AFI FEST Interview: Director Mia Hansen-Løve Talks Parisian DJ Epic EDEN
Mia Hansen-Løve’s fourth feature, EDEN, chronicles two decades in the Parisian club scene, starting in the early 1990s. Following aspiring young DJ, Paul (Félix de Givry), from his early gigs at house parties to a life of international travel and then through the waning popularity of garage music in the mid-2000s, the film is filled with both passion and melancholy. Hansen-Løve discusses her inspirations for the film, the importance of staying true to the authenticity of her experiences, and how Daft Punk became a vital part of the story.
AFI: What inspired you to tell this story?
MHL: I had written three films that were all very personal, but I felt like I was at the end of that inspiration. Even though EDEN is inherently a very personal film, I thought I had to explore a new territory. At the same time, I asked myself [how] the film would be about my generation and what it meant to me. That is something I asked myself when I watched Olivier Assayas’ SOMETHING IN THE AIR, because that was about his generation in the 1970s. I realized the music, especially electronic music, was the one thing that was defining for my generation. I had been talking with my brother, Sven – who had been involved in the music scene for 20 years since becoming a DJ at the age of 18 – about making a film about his story. I thought his pathway was very relevant as a way to talk about [our] generation, and its ideals, inspiration and fragility, too.
AFI: In your films, you tend to focus on characters that are on life journeys, and they seem to possess this sense of loss and melancholia. What draws to you to these characters?
MHL: One of the reasons why it makes me want to write films, and maybe it’s naïve to think this way, is the feeling that if I don’t tell [the stories of these characters], nobody will. And that was one of the reasons why I wanted to make this film with specific characters that are categorized as “anti-hero” because they are complex and nuanced, and because they are indirect in their life path. It’s their ideals or their fragility, whether they succeed or fail. I have a feeling nobody wants to tell about these kinds of people, and that is why I said maybe I am naïve and maybe disillusioned – but it makes me feel like its necessary to showcase people who are not in the light and more in the shadows.
AFI: What about Félix de Givry made you know he was the right person to play Paul?
MHL: Just the way he looks. There’s a mixture of innocence, spontaneity, charisma and the fact that he was at ease in front of the camera. It was great because he had both the qualities of an actor and a non-actor while I was working with him. Something else that was very important in the decision-making process was the fact that Félix is involved in music and nightlife. He has a collective called Pain Surprise that he created with a group of friends when he was 18 or 20, and they created a label and produced music. They even produced a song that was a big hit last year that is actually in the film at the end. He is really involved, comprehensive and has instincts for what this film is really about. I knew the film was going to be long process and complicated to finance, and I needed a lot of involvement and energy. I couldn’t imagine an actor who would just show up and be that perform his part for me on the shoot day. It needed a special involvement, and we spent two years together – Félix, my brother and I. We did a kind of trial, and we feel that Paul is actually a creation from the dialogue we had among the three of us.
AFI: It’s an amusing and also sad reminder every time Daft Punk is on screen, because it shows that band’s successful progression as artists, while Paul seems to be either spiraling downward or encountering roadblocks. What did Daft Punk’s presence bring to Paul’s story?
MHL: We couldn’t imagine telling the story without them, because they had been so important in my brother Sven’s group of friends, and they were all coming from the same place and time. It would’ve been impossible to tell a story about this kind of music without thinking about them, so it was very natural for us to include them in the story. When we first started writing the script, I wasn’t sure I knew what the story was about, and progressively I realized how meaningful Daft Punk’s presence was and how much it paralleled my brother/the character’s life and progression. It was then I realized their presence and progression was quite crucial.
AFI: It’s refreshing to see the DJ lifestyle portrayed as something other than an all-day, all-night party session. What was your approach to this?
MHL: I’m sure there will be people who will be disappointed not to see the supposed craziness that is usually associated with the music scene. The film is low-key about this movement. But it comes with the desire of being faithful to life, the passing of time, of success. Like the character of Paul, my brother has been successful, but it hasn’t necessarily been as spectacular as you would expect.
I knew that if I had made it more like a success story – like a rise and fall in a spectacular fashion – it would’ve been easier to finance. But to me, it would’ve followed too many stereotypes and clichés. For us, what was exciting was being able to be true. My reflection on how to tell this story was “How can I reach this truth?” It’s a subjective one, but how can I make a film that is faithful to my experience and my brother’s story of DJ-ing for 20 years? I tried not to imitate how other people have depicted the scene as glamorous or fancy. I tried to make a film that is true and authentic, that stays close to how I make films. Festival screening times here.
EDEN screened at AFI FEST 2014 as part of the World Cinema category. Watch the trailer for the film here.