Lost in Music: Mia Hansen-Løve on French Touch movie Eden

Mia Hansen-Løve discusses her brilliant new film Eden, an intimate epic telling the history of the French Touch music scene through one DJ's bloodshot eyes

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 13 Jul 2015

Mia Hansen-Løve is sitting legs folded, Buddha-like, on a straight back chair in a London hotel conference room. In her hand she’s unconsciously fiddling with a card of stickers covered in Disney princesses. She sees them catch The Skinny's eye. “My daughter was playing in here before,” she explains. “I should put them away, really. People will think I’m weird.” She carries on playing. One gets the impression the 34-year-old filmmaker doesn’t worry too much about what other people think of her.

You can see this strength of character in her small but exquisite body of work. Her first three features (All Is Forgiven, The Father of My Children and Goodbye First Love) reveal a filmmaker with a distinct voice all her own; one that is concerned with organic rhythm and gentle ironies rather than grand dramatics or convoluted scenarios. “I think it’s probably both my strength and my weakness,” she suggests of her low-key style. “It always brings me problems when I try to finance the script because people tell me there’s not enough drama, there’s not enough plot, not enough violence. The thing is, my own emotion works this way – I can’t help but trust it.”

Take her latest film, Eden, which charts the rise of French house music from the early 90s to the present day. A more conventional filmmaker might want to tell the story from the point-of-view of one of the scene's superstars, say Daft Punk. That electronic duo do make an appearance as baby-faced house party wax-spinners, but Hansen-Løve's focus instead is Paul, a contemporary of Daft Punk’s (he’s at the party where they premiere Da Funk) who didn’t quite make it.

Hansen-Løve based the character on her own brother, Sven Hansen-Løve, who was a DJ on the French Touch scene and ended up left behind by the wave. “I’m much more inspired by people I know intimately than by fantasy stories,” she says when asked about her choice to base the film on her brother’s experiences, “but also I thought it could be much more universal because, for every two Daft Punks, how many Pauls are there? A lot of people can connect with that music deeply. But as far as it has to do with their lives and their path, I think Paul’s path is a very common one. That's what would make [Eden's story] universal.”

The film is an intimate epic. It’s set over two decades, has dozens of characters, and scenes on either sides of the Atlantic, but it never strays far from its lead protagonist’s emotional imbroglios. “You’d think in twenty years you’d have lots of big events and dramatic moments, but – partly unconsciously – I avoid them and instead look at the aftermath or the moments that people don’t care about – but they are crucial to me.” Hansen-Løve is well aware this approach won’t be to every filmgoer's taste. “Maybe I’m losing part of the public that need the more frontal storytelling," she concedes, "but then I think about the other part of the public who can still connect with the film even more deeply from the fact that it is not conventional.”

As the years role on, Paul’s DJ regime leaves him in a kind of limbo, a world of euphoric, coke-fuelled nights that prevent him joining his friends in a more adult and family orientated lifestyle. It’s a pattern she’s observed in her brother and her other DJ friends and acquaintances. “It’s strange, actually, to see people who spend their lives in nightclubs, who don’t sleep at night, take drugs and alcohol, some of them die, but some of them seem to stay as if they were 25 forever.” Like in all tales of eternal youth, this blessing eventually becomes a curse. “Girls come and go and leave again, people die, the music changes – everything changes except [Paul]. He’s just like a vampire who stays young forever. At first you think it’s a power, but then it gets quite sad at some point.”

Like in Hansen-Løve’s most recent film, Goodbye First Love, which takes place over eight years, there are no facile efforts to make Paul look older over the film’s timespan, which serves to enhance his arrested development. “In all the films where you have these special effects to make the actors look older, for me they make the films look like cinema,” she says. “I was always more excited to make the films give a feeling of life. I’m not saying it’s the perfect solution, because the perfect solution would have been to wait 20 years, like in Boyhood, but I am not patient enough.”

“I’m much more inspired by people I know intimately than by fantasy stories” – Mia Hansen-Løve

While naturalism is clearly important to Hansen-Løve, there is a structural convention to all her films that do mark them out stylistically: they’re all presented in two halves with an ellipsis between acts, like an interval in a theatre production. In Eden’s case, the first part is titled “Paradise Garage”, the second “Lost in the Music”. Why does she favours this atypical two act form?

“I don’t know why,” she says. “I guess everybody who writes has some obsession, some way of thinking or a way of constructing stories that you feel comfortable with. I never intend to do films like that, it just happens.”

This unconscious structural quirk does provide a pleasing mirror to the emotional dichotomy at the heart of all her films: a tension between the euphoria and melancholy of life. “I guess maybe it does have to do with the mixture of energies [in her films]: joy, a trust of life, something that’s a bit more upbeat, and there’s always a contradictory movement in them that’s more downbeat. I guess the emotion that makes me write always comes from these mixed feelings; it’s never black or white.”

Whatever the reason, these conflicting emotions, she insists, have to be brought into the here and the now. “My films are connected with past and memories, but none of my films are locked in the past – I would not be interested in that at all.” The notion, for her, is far too morbid. “It’s totally necessary for me, personally, that my films connect with life, and the only way to do that is to bring them back to the present.”

Eden is released 24 Jul by Metrodome