Component is a section of Aux.Out. for one-off pieces, special editorials, and lost orphans of the music discussion. Today, Sarah Kurchak interviews Mia Hansen-Løve about her upcoming film, Eden, which fictionalizes the real experiences of her and her brother in the French house scene of the ’90s.
Nostalgia’s a hell of a drug, and it can be particularly disorienting when you mix it with music. When people who came of age in the throes of a scene try to reflect on that time, whether they’re telling a simple anecdote or producing a full-blown film, there’s always something a bit too hazy or glossy about their stories. Even Almost Famous, the beloved rock film inspired by writer and director Cameron Crowe’s experiences as a teenage music journalist, suffers from the occasional detour into rose-tinted territory.
When acclaimed auteur Mia Hansen-Løve and her brother, garage DJ Sven Hansen-Løve, began working on a script inspired by their lives in the French house scene that launched the likes of Daft Punk in the 1990s and 2000s, they wanted to fight that impulse as much as possible.
“It was the ambition of the film to be both a tribute to house music and to the people who lived it and lived in the music and transmit the love for the music and, at the same time, to be lucid, to be realist,” Mia said in a conversation last November after one of many stops on the fall festival circuit. “At the heart of the film is this very strong emotion that I share with my brother, but we wanted to share it without getting out of reality. We didn’t want it to be cliches and fantasy that people often connect with the music and the nightlife.”
The culmination of that ambition, a film co-written by the Hansen-Løve siblings and directed by Mia called Eden, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of 2014 and quickly won over the press and industry with its full-hearted but clear-eyed take on the early and middle days of French house. Eden follows Paul (Félix de Givry), a DJ loosely based on Sven, as he falls in love with the scene in the early ‘90s and experiences a 12” mix of success, failure, love, heartbreak, growing old, and maybe even growing up over the course of the following 10 or so years. It earned praise from the press for its impressive lack of both nostalgia and cynicism and almost immediately scored a distribution deal. It will be released theatrically in the States on June 19th.
But the very vision that’s now making Eden such an artistic – and potentially commercial – success made it a hard sell when Mia Hansen-Løve was first trying to fund the project.
“In my opinion, this clear choice of realism is maybe the most audacious thing that is in the film, because nobody wants that realism. It’s something that I actually noticed, that was actually striking for me when I was trying to get the film financed, and I realized that many of the difficulties I had with the script had something to do with our choice to try to show this world in its nudity, in a way, as it was and not as we fantasize it is.”
The siblings refused to glamorize their idea and eventually found producers who believed in what they were doing. Then they faced another major hurdle: the music. When Mia and Sven presented their first producers (they had to change twice in the process of making Eden) with a list of songs from artists like Daft Punk, Frankie Knuckles, and The Orb that they wanted to license for the project, the producers balked.
“[They] estimated the cost of the music at one million euros, which is actually the cost of my first film,” Mia says. “That would have ultimately made the film impossible to finance, and, because of that, they were very scared.”
Mia and Sven were far less concerned, though. Taking matters into their own hands, they approached the artists, many of whom were Sven’s former colleagues and acquaintances, explained what they wanted to do, and offered every single artist, regardless of fame or stature, the same flat rate for the use of their songs.
Using this democratic tactic, they were able to secure 41 tracks for the soundtrack, including “A Huge Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld” by The Orb, “The Whistle Song” by Frankie Knuckles, “Energy Flash” by Joey Beltram, and “Veridis Quo”, “Within”, and “Da Funk” by Daft Punk. “At the end, there were only two or three that we had that we couldn’t use,” Hansen-Løve calculates. She doesn’t say which songs got away.
“I was always optimistic because I knew that a lot of the people we had to go ask for the music rights were people of the house and garage music scene. I knew that these people would understand that the film was a tribute to the people, a tribute to the music, and I don’t think there have been any films, maybe documentaries, but not fiction films, getting directly into the music and showing it as it was with the people involved in it and showing it in this way. I think because we explained to them what the film was about, they wanted to be in the film. So they were ready to accept the price.”
Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, better known as Daft Punk, were the very first musicians the pair asked. But they also had another question for French house’s most famous sons: they were including the duo as minor characters in the film and wanted their blessing to do so.
“We couldn’t imaging making this film if they hadn’t,” Hansen-Løve admits. “So yeah, we gave them the script quite early, and they knew my films. One of them had seen them, and he respects them. I think they actually liked the way we used them and the fact that the film wasn’t a biopic about them, or a success story, but a film about my brother, and they were just part of the story.”
Daft Punk didn’t just approve of the story; they actually added to it. There’s a recurring joke in Eden about the duo being denied entry to clubs because the person in charge of the guest list can’t recognize them without their masks. According to Mia, that comes straight from the men/robots themselves.
“They were telling us that when they were very young, they used to be the ones who were kicked out of clubs because people didn’t know their faces, but it was still going on,” she recalls. “A couple of days before we went to them, this guy whom we all knew from this club had not recognized them.”
The guy ended up losing his job over the snub, but he picked up a replacement gig when, in a reality-becomes-fiction-becomes-reality scenario, the Hansen-Løves recruited him to play his Daft Punk-denying self in Eden. After that, he moved on to another club, but it turns out that he still hasn’t learned his lesson.
“The weird thing is that it actually happened again just recently to them. From the same guy! The guy who actually plays his own part in the film! He was working at another club, and he did it again. I actually think it upset them, in a way. The first time they thought it was funny, but after a while it’s getting upsetting.”
But the doorman isn’t alone in failing to recognize Daft Punk. Many viewers – and at least one critic from TIFF – have become convinced the pair actually play themselves in Eden (Bangalter and de Homem-Christo are actually played by actors Vincent Lacoste and Arnaud Azoulay, respectively).
“That’s the most crazy thing about this film,” Hansen-Løve says with a gentle laugh. “We told them a couple of days ago, and they actually couldn’t believe the fact that people still think it’s them in the film. How can [people] believe that guys who have been spending 20 years of their life hiding themselves would, just for the sake of being in a film, let everyone know it’s them? That’s just such an absurd idea. And also, the actors in the film have names. They are in the credits and so young.
“But it kind of fascinates me. I don’t think they are silly people for believing that. I think it shows the power of fascination that this group have on people, the fact that they so much want to believe that [it’s Daft Punk]. They believe it even if it doesn’t make any sense.”
It’s also a testament to Hansen-Løve’s dedication to realism. When everything else about the film looks, sounds, and feels so true to life, it becomes easier to suspend your disbelief to the point where you feel like you’re actually watching Daft Punk in the unmasked flesh.
The director and her brother went to extensive lengths to put together Eden’s numerous clubs scenes.
“I think we gave as much attention to the lighting and to the extras as we gave to the sound,” Hansen-Løve muses.
Using a combination of their own hazy memories from the time period (“Sven used to do ecstasy, so some things in his memories about the parties are kind of foggy.”) and insight from some of the original party promoters, they recreated the old house nights as faithfully as they could. They lit the scenes with era-appropriate lighting. In all but the most dialogue-heavy scenes, they actually played the music over the clubs’ sound systems while they were shooting. And when they realized that one particularly classic Parisian venue called The Queen had been renovated beyond the point of all recognition, they went ahead and recreated its former signature look, complete with a giant wall of old TVs, inside of another club.
“In Paris, when they see the film, all of the people actually think that we really shot there,” she says with pride.
They also put a lot of care into their selection of extras. When it became clear that the arduous process of finding funding and going through multiple producers was going to take significantly longer than they’d originally thought, Hansen-Løve and her brother decided to dedicate their unexpected free time to a meticulous recruiting process.
“We needed this time because he has to find a lot of extras. We wanted them to be non-professional extras, so we would go to the clubs in Paris and to the electronic festivals and give them papers asking them to do the casting. They would come with a group of friends, we would film them as a group, ask them to improvise, and also dance to the music,” she says.
“It’s not necessarily that we were looking for people who danced well, because I think in club scenes in films, a lot of times you have people who dance too good that are over the top, big muscles, and the clothes are too obvious, and they dance with too much enthusiasm, and it makes the whole thing look so fake.”
She wanted extras who looked and acted like the people her brother had played for two decades earlier.
“It was about finding the right balance so that it became really authentic and also finding people who had a true relationship to the music, and I really think that made the difference.”
The combined effect of the club recreations, lights, music, and cast was so convincing that some scenes actually turned into legitimate parties. Sometimes, when they were done shooting, the extras would actually ask the crew to turn the music back on.
“Some of my fondest memories of the shooting are these ones, where the day was over, and we were all exhausted, but the experience was so strong that even parts of the technical team went to the dance floor and danced with them for one or two songs,” she recalls. “That was something really strong.”
’90s nostalgia was still a relatively new thing when Hansen-Løve was writing and filming Eden. In fact, it was rarely seen outside of impromptu dance parties on film sets at that point. But the somewhat maligned decade was well into its strange pop culture comeback by the time Eden celebrated its world premiere at TIFF last September. House music, raves, and even PLUR were and are back with a vengeance. Hansen-Løve might have no need for this level of nostalgia in her work, but she can at least appreciate the way that it seems to creep into some people’s lives.
“I noticed in France also, and in the US, obviously there is really a nostalgia and a desire for people to go back to that time, which is, of course, impossible, because you can’t get the same innocence as the one that you had,” she ponders. “I think the reason why people have nostalgia for that is precisely because of that innocence that they feel they have lost, and they want to get it back. But it’s weird because, I mean, the film is talking about a very recent past. And listening to all of the comments, and the people who go to me when they are moved by the film, saying how much they regret that time … it’s always a weird feeling, because they are still so young! It makes you feel how quick the time passes.”
Sarah Kurchak is a writer from Toronto. She has previously been published in Spinner, Huffington Post, Noisey, National Post, and AUX. She tweets.