Beats Per Minute, by Aaron Pinkston
Eden is mainly the story of Paul Vallée, an inspired and talented young man whose love for electronica music translates into a successful career as a DJ. Along with his equally nerdy friend, he creates a group called Cheers and rising through the French underground, becoming one of the key members of the movement. The film is casual with most of its plot details. It is certainly a narrative film, but is more focused on the music and the passage of time. Eden covers an incredible amount of time, over 20 years altogether, often jumping ahead a few years at a time and making its viewer fill in the gaps. It’s almost too ambitious, as its young cast can’t quite pull off the transition from 18 to late 30s. One could say they don’t age well, right along with their underground electronica scene.
Most of Paul’s narrative transitions through the girlfriends in his life – the music is the only constant. He starts with Julia (Greta Gerwig, in a surprising cameo), an American novice writer in Paris away from her husband. Their romance is short (only shown in the film in one scene, and then a later return), but has a lot of impact on the young man. The bulk of the film is spent with Louise, a rebellious girl who was previously the spurned lover of Paul’s best friend. Louise is the emotional antithesis of Paul’s mopey, uneffective state, and that obviously leads to equal amounts passion and anger.
But, really, Eden and Paul’s real relationship is with music. I can’t say I’m really much of a fan of electronica music, especially of its even more esoteric subgenres, but there is no doubt that the music is infectious throughout the film. I’m not really sure if the songs created by the fictitious group are old standbys from the genre’s roots – if yes, it is very well curated, if no, it has made great efforts to created a consistent sound. The style of Cheers is called “garage,” which shouldn’t be confused with garage rock. Rather, it uses electronic beats and are described as robotic or cold with soulful samples from old R&B singers.
There are many singers, dancers and DJs that are featured throughoutEden. I wouldn’t be one to recognize them, but they are all given screentime that indicates they are obviously important to this subculture. The one exception is Daft Punk, who come up at the same time as Paul and Cheers, and are featured prominently in the film. Their music plays throughout, they are mentioned increasingly as their presence grows, ultimately becoming far and away the most popular figures in France’s electronica scene. They are even characters in the film (played by actors, as if one of the biggest music groups in the world would make an appearance in this film). There is a funny running joke where they can’t get into clubs because doormen don’t recognize who they are.
Strangely, the most narratively and emotionally impactful section of the film are in its third act, after Paul has washed out of the music scene and tries to get his life back on track. He’s deep into debt and doesn’t have skills to get a better job than hocking vacuum cleaners over the phone. It is the only part of the film that really feels aligned, the only time I could really see into Paul’s character and want him to work it out. Most films about a struggling artist would hit this point sooner and stretch these emotional stakes. It’s sort of a weird move for Eden to brush away its mish-mash, music driven tour only in its last 20 minutes, but it leaves on a hopeful and necessary note.