“We’ve heard a lot about the parties but we don’t get out much any more”
Dir: Mia Hansen-Løve
CG Cinema, France, 2014/15
Starring: Félix de Givry, Pauline Etienne, Greta Gerwig
To dissect and examine the core of a subculture, to delve into its mechanics and the many intricacies involved in a certain way of thinking, of dressing, of feeling and being, and to credibly portray this ideology to a wider audience, is an astonishingly difficult task. Those who try their hand at this strenuous activity can often revert to relying on caricatures and stereotypes in order to simplify a portrayal for digestion by a wider audience, but unintentionally offend or antagonise those at its centre. We bear witness to this with alarming regularity – Noel Clarke’s maddeningly reduced representation of the English working class youth in Kidulthood (2006) for example, a representation which drapes its subjects in cheap tracksuits and defines them through the melodramatic violence that they indulge in and the accents which they articulate their thoughts through. Tired stereotypes and clichés leave the subjects vulnerable to parody and satire, and when Anuvahood (2011) so brilliantly exploited Clarke’s overuse of simple representations, impeccably taking the piss, this circle closed and the visual, cinematic stereotype of the Chav was cemented for a generation of filmgoers.
So you see the inherent danger of subculture films, this inconceivably thin line that the director treads between oversimplification and incoherence – to visually group a section of society you must somehow liken them to one another, but in this act you potentially hold the power to disrupt the culture, to demonise or patronise them, and a mishandling of this power can influence the perception of them for generations to come. A poorly judged or unfair depiction becomes immortalised in the celluloid and passed off as entertainment at their expense.
What then, does Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden (2014), a film concerning the development and blossoming of not just a subculture in sociological terms, but a subculture in the musical sense also, add to this catalogue? Does it fall helplessly into pigeon-holes, compartmentalisation and direct, basic approaches to representation or offer something fresh, exciting and innovative when conveying the values and ideals of a select group to the wider social circle?
It doesn’t take much to form a collective; the basic ingredients consist of a shared passion or deep interest in a certain aspect of life, art or activity. Where it becomes complicated and endlessly elaborate is when this collective begins to grow and affect those separate from the community, when it starts to attract praise or criticism and enters the common knowledge of those separated by geography and time. ‘French Touch’ house music may not be the most prominent or immediate example that comes to mind when we consider the subcultures of recent history, but when this culture contains a pair of artists as widely recognised and revered as Daft Punk are, then it is difficult not to take interest in its beginnings and its lasting influence.
Eden includes the members of Daft Punk as characters within the narrative but does not focus intently on them, allowing for the film to develop its own defining attributes separate from the world dominating duo. Instead, Eden centres on a duo named ‘Cheers’ formed by two young Parisians at the very beginning of the meteoric rise of the genre, and proceeds to explore not simply how the distinctive genre of music came to be, but how it affected those who orbited its core and how it transformed the values of those who were involved in its inception.
There is obvious care poured into every aspect of this representation, from convincing recreations of the first French Touch parties, to the collation of the exquisite soundtrack, one that interweaves lesser known gems with bona-fide classics. Sven Hansen Løve, brother of director Mia, is likely the most integral figure in the successful elements of the film’s representational process. Both Eden’s writer and the inspiration for its main character Paul, the film is drawn directly from his memories of the era, his involvement in the movement and his interactions with its pioneers. With this in mind, the devil is truly in the most minute of details – The club owner at the ‘Cheers’ launch night being played by the very owner he is based upon, the capturing of the anticipation involved in waiting for records in the post and even the fussing over and perfecting of the averages and levels in the sound systems. Each club scene carries the feeling that, even if the cameras were removed from the equation, these gatherings of extras and actors would evolve into legitimate, narcotic fuelled, four to the floor driven parties.
Club culture and, more specifically, electronic music culture, has appeared on film before in various guises and under disparate pretences. Human Traffic (1999) encapsulated the rhythm, routine and habits of the chemical generation, but when attempting to depict its darker side, felt like it could relapse into comedy at any given moment, the underlying message falling flat though the spirit was genuine – It’s all gone Pete Tong (2004) fell victim to similar criticism. Though these films are far from lacking in their depth of knowledge regarding their subject and research of the community, they do not flow as naturally between atmospheres and tones as Eden does, and, where Hansen-Løve steers the narrative into cautionary as opposed to celebratory, there is organic and reasonable motive.
When the music ceases and silence proceeds to seep into Eden, the skill of its direction is fully revealed. We could consider the worst examples of the subculture film genre to peddle relentless visual similarities, establishing their character’s commonalities through costume, dialect and clichés. However, in a tribe where there is no explicit dress code and both Hansen-Løve siblings must rely solely the love of a very specific style of music in order connect their characters; they are able to do so with elegance and style. Though the representation may, at some points, seem to veer into simply depicting attractive French people standing in a room smoking and nodding along to a repetitive beat, there is genuine emotion, experience and knowledge instilled into each and every one of them
Gravitating somewhere between nostalgia and commemoration, yearning and apathy, Eden is able to portray the fundamentals to those who are unfamiliar, and the minutiae to those in the know. Hansen-Løve’s film washes over you with loving warmth and a frosty breeze in equal measure, in parts it is an explicit warning, in others a seductive temptation. Both in the context of subculture films, and the finest pieces of cinema released this year, it is simply essential.
- Kristofer Thomas