As sure as the seasons change and the sun rises, popular music genres will almost always shift and sway. Jazz gave way to rock, rock gave way to hip hop, and it looks increasingly like hip hop is in decline today. Make no mistake, Eminem and Jay-Z aren’t going anywhere but when I look at the mainstream rap scene I see a lot to worry about. Honestly the whole genre kind of feels like it’s about to get stuck in a rut in much the same way mainsteam rock stagnated after the demise of gunge and the rise of the Nickelbacks of the world. The big question is “what music is going to fill that void?” and increasingly the answer seems to be EDM (Electronic Dance Music). EDM hasn’t really become a radio format and we’re still not quite at a point where someone like Deadmau5 can just put one of his noisy instrumental tracks out and get massive radio airplay, but by collaborating with pop singers DJs have become a commercial force to be reckoned with. At this very moment Skrillix, Diplo, David Guetta, and DJ Snake are all in the Billboard top 20 and other EDM DJs like Calvin Harris and Avicii have had monumental hits as of late, not to mention Daft Punk’s massive Grammy winning comeback album “Random Access Memories” two years ago. One could easily make the mistake of thinking this music just came out of nowhere, but that obviously isn’t the case. This is a genre that has had a long history, and the new movie Eden seeks to explore one aspect of that history.
The film begins in the early 90s in Paris where a young man named Paul (Félix de Givry) is attending a party at a club when he and another electronic music enthusiast named Stan (Hugo Conzelmann) decide to form a Garage duo called “Cheers,” setting off two decades of up and down success in the Paris club scene. The film follows Paul as he establishes his niche following in Paris, briefly tours New York and Chicago, only to eventually find the toll of years in the clubs take their toll on him. Women come in and out of his life, he dabbles in drugs, and his relationship with his family becomes increasingly rocky as he pursues his dream.
Going into the film I had thought that I was a little more knowledgeable about EDM than the average person because I had some Daft Punk and Moby on my iPod, but it quickly became apparent just how much of a neophyte I was about the music, especially once I realized that I had no idea what the difference between Garage and House music was. Unfortunately I don’t think the movie did a whole lot to make me understand or really connect with the music on a deeper level. In fact it kind of failed to really establish what goes into being a DJ. We certainly see a number of shots of Paul setting records on turntables and slowly moving them in semi-circles before letting it play, but it’s not overly clear how much he’s altering and re-mixing the songs while at the DJ table and it’s never overly clear what “Cheers” is doing to advance the scene. If the film had been about a struggling rock band or folk singer rather than a DJ I doubt that the narrative or even the flavor of the film would have been all that different.
The movie’s bigger sin though is that it’s a character study about a character just that didn’t strike me as a wildly interesting subject. I’m sure there’s a certain truth to the way the film depicts Paul’s rise to low level local fame and eventual self-destruction, but the film didn’t really do a whole lot to argue for the story’s importance. Part of this may have been Félix de Givry’s performance, which struck me as rather bland and the film didn’t do a great job of aging the character over the course of the film’s twenty year span (though I’m not unsympathetic with the challenges of conveying the subtle aging process that people go through between the ages of 16 and 36 through makeup). I feel like a rise and fall narrative like this could have been made more impactful if it had been told with the energy and style of something like Boogie Nights or perhaps with the melancholy of something like Inside Llewyn Davis but Mia Hansen-Løve shoots the film in a rather disappointingly understated way that never really propels the story. The film definitely has interesting moments but as a whole it just doesn’t really justify itself.
** out of Four