Finally there’s a film that gets house music right. Eden, from French director Mia Hansen-Løve, is an unabashed ode to the music and the ups and downs of a life lived for it. It’s also just a great film, one that combines a refreshingly authentic take on the underground with intelligent, bittersweet drama about friendship, fleeting youth and disappointment.
It’s earned a lot of acclaim from critics and film buffs at its various festival screenings around the world ahead of its release in the US on June 19. You don’t have to be a house head to appreciate Eden – but if you are, no doubt you’ll see many echoes of your own experiences in it, and the awesome soundtrack will make your pulse pound.
Eden is based on the true life story of director Hansen-Løve’s brother Sven Løve, who co-wrote the film. The story follows a writer and DJ named Paul (Sven’s surrogate) and his friends over 18 years on the Paris club scene from the ’90s to the present day. We watch Paul as he goes from being a hungry up-and-comer to wielding influence over the French scene with his weekly party Cheers.
He tours the world, releases his own tracks, meets and works with some of the biggest names in the industry (including Tony Humphries, India, Arnold Jarvis and Terry Hunter, who appear as themselves in the film) – and then eventually burns out, mired in drug and financial problems.
Telling a life story in a series of episodes, and mostly avoiding heavy drama in favor of ordinary day-to-day happenings, it could be compared to Richard Linklater’s epic Boyhood. Like that film, Eden has a loose, meandering quality and a naturalistic, lifelike feel that’s both hypnotic and surprisingly moving, as the narrative recreates the cumulative weight of years of small moments of joy and pain over two and a half hours.
Among Paul’s friends are a pair of geeky musicians named Thomas and Guy, who go on to revolutionize the French music scene and take the Paris house sound to the world – you may have heard of them. Thus Eden is often referred to in the media as “that Daft Punk film,” but that’s not very accurate. The pair are supporting characters who disappear from the story for long stretches – though their skyrocketing fame forms a great running joke, and the soundtrack makes excellent use of four of their songs.
It’s not exactly about the highly influential French Touch sound, either. Eden is really more about Paris’s garage scene and Paul’s all-consuming love of the American house sound. That said, the film makes clear that the French fondness for garage was a major factor in the development of the French Touch, which combined house, funk, disco, indie and electronica and made Paris one of the epicenters of dance music in the ’90s. (For a primer on the French sound of the era, check out this mix and playlist I put together for inthemix to celebrate the release of Eden.)
I’ll just say it: Eden is definitely the best dramatic film I’ve ever seen about house music. To be fair, I can’t think of what would even qualify for second place. Of the handful of films that cover club culture (Go, It’s All Gone Pete Tong, Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy come to mind), most have focused on ravier or more progressive sounds.
For some reason the gritty future-soul sound of house – “the soul in the machine,” as a running theme in the film reminds us – has been largely absent from cinema. But Eden is so good and the music in it so celebratory and so spot-on, it will make you wonder why this has been the case. I’ve always found house to be incredibly cinematic music; and as both a cinephile and a house head, I can tell you this the film I’ve been waiting for. As a human drama about a life dedicated to music, that gets the music right, Eden belongs in a class with 24 Hour Party People and High Fidelity. It reminded me a lot of both of those films in its passion and energy and intelligence, though it’s more abstract and melancholy than either.
Warning: you’ll be tempted to get up and dance in the aisles during the many club scenes. It helps that the film’s sound mix is excellent, with serious thump balanced by some pretty realistic room and crowd noise (make sure to see it in a theater with a good system). The editing flow suits a house vibe too: the patience with which Hansen-Løve and editor Marion Monnier let the club and party scenes play out feels much more “house” than the hyperkinetic editing common to club scenes in other films. It’s not all packed rooms with hands in the air (though there are plenty of those too).
Unspectacular moments we’ve all experienced, like waiting to get on the decks while another DJ finishes his set, or wandering around a club looking for a friend you lost track of, or being the last one on the dancefloor at the end of the night, are depicted here, and it gives the whole thing a nicely real quality. No movie could ever capture the unique set of sensory experiences that is being inside a club with house music pumping, but Eden gets closer to the real deal than most.
These technical achievements are matched by the film’s spirit. Passion for real house music pours out of every frame, balanced by a painstakingly accurate anthropological study of the life of a DJ and club head. Sven Løve didn’t hold back in mining the minutia of his own life – some of it painful or embarrassing – in writing the screenplay; and his sister translates it all to the big screen in loving detail.
It gets the love and the heartache exactly right: the feeling of being at a party when you’re young, the crowd singing along with “Promised Land,” fondling your vinyl, playing with the EQ, waiting to get into a club with the bass thumping through the walls, starting a crew, learning the hard way how to promote a gig. The feeling of going nuts for a classic or a new promo that you just discovered, getting a mix exactly right and the crowd going nuts, the exhaustion of being out all night, falling in love with a girl you just met at 6 in the morning, DJing at home in your underwear on a Sunday afternoon. The feeling of being at your millionth party when you’re over 35, trying to explain it all to people who don’t know what house is, relationships ending. The feeling of spending a life on it and you don’t know how time passed by so quickly, losing friends, the crowd singing along with “Finally.” Exactly right: there are moments you want to laugh out loud or shed tears at how familiar it all seems.
(On a personal note, the fact that Paul is about my age and both a DJ and a writer made the whole thing ridiculously deep for me. It was kind of hard to watch at times. But anyone who’s tried to make a living in music while balancing it with “real life,” no matter what their dayjob is, will be able to relate.)
So, now that we’ve established that you need to see Eden, let’s talk about the music. At 42 tracks, the soundtrack album is massive, and it immediately jumps onto the list of the best of all time regardless of genre. There’s no compromise with the music at all; in some ways it’s a manifesto of house music over the past 20 years. It’s obvious that Sven Løve was insistent about the music that represents the soundtrack of his own life, and that the licensing of all these classics was taken very seriously by the filmmakers. (Mia Hansen-Løve has mentioned in interviews that she switched producers twice in order to find someone willing to play hardball on the soundtrack licensing.)
A couple of deep-techno classics from the early ’90s kicks off the proceedings in splendid fashion: Jaydee’s inimitable organ-drenched groovathon “Plastic Dreams,” and Derrick May’s swooningly gorgeous version of the Balearic standard “Sueño Latino,” so central to the memorable opening scene of the film.
Joey Beltram’s seminal hardcore anthem “Energy Flash,” The Orb‘s ambient epic “A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld,” and Liquid’s melodic “Sweet Harmony,” an early breakbeat standout on XL, help complete the picture of the early-’90s rave days that pull Paul into the club scene just as they did for me and my generation. “Sweet Harmony” is a particularly poignant choice, because it’s just the sort of 1992 record that would have made a rave kid curious about house music – a “gateway drug” as it were – thanks to its garagey keys and beautiful strings.
It’s the early-’90s garage and deep-house classics that form the beating heart of Eden’s soundtrack, and what a collection it is. “Follow Me” by Aly-Us, Frankie Knuckles’ “The Whistle Song” and “Promised Land” by Joe Smooth are some of the bigger and more titles. It doesn’t matter that they’re tried and true; these are rock-solid eternal tunes that you really don’t ever get tired of, that will always get hands in the air, and the way Eden translates that feeling onto the big screen is wonderful. MK’s “Mkappella,” the atmospheric dub that became the most sought-after track on 1991’s “Burning,” is here. So is Crystal Waters’ “Gypsy Woman,” and while maybe this one’s been a bit played out over the years, it’s still a great tune and so representative of the sound of the era.
There’s a bunch of somewhat less iconic but still essential mid-to-late ’90s cuts on the soundtrack too: “Making a Living” by Brooklyn’s Lee Rodriguez comes from his epochal 1994 LP The African Dream (“All the Same Family” is the more well-known track from that album). “Happy Song” by Charles Dockins on Strictly Rhythm subsidary Groove On is exactly that. Byron Stingily’s 1997 single “Get Up (Everybody)” on Nervous was one I hadn’t heard in a while and it really brought back memories.
“Tak a Lickin’ (And Keep on Ticking),” an early ghetto-house cut on Dance Mania by Chicago don Paul Johnson, was new to me, but it’s brilliant – way more melodic than a ghetto cut needs to be, as if Johnson couldn’t hold back his disco instincts. “To Be in Love” by Masters at Work featuring India is the quintessential sound of New York in that era. One of the French-house classics to stand out from the American tunes on the soundtrack is Cheek’s “Venus (Sunshine People Remix)” – hands down one of the best disco-house stompers of the day.
The soundtrack rolls on into the noughties – and now it’s hard to believe some of these tracks are upwards of 14 and 15 years old and storied classics in themselves. Among them are Octave One’s string-saturated techno-soul anthem “Blackwater”; the lush “It’s Yours” by Jon Cutler featuring spoken word by E-Man; Frenchman Martin Solveig’s funky “Jealousy,” and the hair-raising, soul-uplifting “Finally” by Kings of Tomorrow, one of my favorite songs of all time and probably one of yours too. Its melancholy lyric about passing time crystallizes an important theme in the film.
Eden’s soundtrack also features a number of new exclusives from some of the biggest names in house and garage, including “Lost in Love” by Arnold Jarvis; “Sweet Music” by Terry Hunter; DJ Spen’s remix of Angie Stone’s “Brotha”; a new version of Kerri Chandler’s “We Are Here”; and a production by Sven Løve himself, “Amazing,” featuring Kenny Bobien.
Finally there are Daft Punk’s four tracks, all of which form important emotional touchstones in the film. The seminal “Da Funk” is key to an early turning point, as its monolithic groove is unleashed on an unsuspecting roomful of party people in 1995 and both a legend and a local scene are born. “Veridis Quo” and “One More Time” from Discovery soundtrack the height of Paul’s international success even as self-doubt begins to gnaw at him.
As a counterpoint to all the house, the melancholy electronic ballad “Within,” from Random Access Memories, plays at an aching moment near the conclusion, as Paul reaches the nadir of his burnout and depression. It’s revelatory how much beauty and depth it contains, in case we were tempted to write off that album after all the hype. Eden may not be the “Daft Punk” film; but the soundtrack wouldn’t be the same if the rave and American-house classics weren’t offset by their quirky, brilliant French touch.
Eden opens in US cinemas on June 19, 2015. Follow Jim Poe on Twitter.