Following an aspiring garage DJ, Paul (Félix de Givry), a slender surrogate for director Mia Hansen-Løve’s brother and co-writer Sven, the film’s first half largely eschews the typical party aesthetics – the neon-streaked dancefloor, the incandescent beaches – for overcast streets and rumpled apartments, like something out of a Rohmer film. (A comparison that deepens when Paul revisits his ex, played by Greta Gerwig, and opens up rifts in his current relationship). Eden drifts through the idle fog of the morning after, the haze of aimless adolescence.
Adolescence that’s, seemingly, perpetually arrested. When Gerwig sees Paul again, she comments “It’s great that you haven’t changed. It makes me sad.” And, indeed, he hasn’t changed; despite wafting through some two decades of modern history, Givry never visibly ages. Perhaps, à la Once Upon a Time in America, Hansen-Løve is offering a commentary on stasis and nostalgia with his decision. This is reinforced by the back half’s embrace of those clichéd scenes, residing in the dancefloor, by the beach. Except these celebratory settings are muted, as though consumed by the thick syrup of nostalgia; bubbles of memory encased in amber. The film becomes less about the spaces in between than the spaces themselves.
As a tone poem, Eden succeeds. The purposeless moments of youth – beautiful in their vaporous transience – become dispiriting upon repetition, like a beat allowed to loop for too long. Aimlessness is sublime until it isn’t.
As a complete film – as a complete experience – there’s something missing, though. It’s cute that the formlessness of Eden’s protagonist’s life is shared with the film, but I’m not sure that a two-hour-plus feature can sustain a thinly-developed, rather unlikeable, middling DJ, even if he does know the guys in Daft Punk. Little decisions that work in the moment dissipate when you stop to think about them – if the lack of old-age make up is intended to hint at Paul’s imprisonment in an eroding façade of youthfulness, why does no-one else around him age either? Meanwhile, Paul’s string of apparently meaningless relationships smooth the film out into homogeneity; this is a dance track desperately in need of a drop. A good remix away from greatness.