Paul Vallée (Félix de Givry) is a teenager in early nineties Paris who really should be studying literature, but finds there is something else he and his pals are interested in, and that is dancing the night away at raves held in a variety of locations big enough to attract a large amount of young folks seeking to forget their cares for a few hours. So enamoured of this is Paul that he and his friend Stan (Hugo Conzelmann) decide they could very well make their own music, and thus with a bunch of other enterprising people they seek to make money out of the dance scene with their own brand of garage. However, devoting your life to the sound of the crowd may not be the most productive or satisfying existence in the long run…
Director Mia Hansen-Løve drew on the experiences of her brother Sven to create this tribute to around twenty years of dance music culture, for he had a lot of familiarity with it, having made his living from just that. It won an appreciative reception from those like him who enjoyed the tunes played on the soundtrack, most prevalently the Daft Punk material as the film was very much in love with their productions, even to the point of featuring them as characters (though played by actors, and not wearing their robot helmets). It becomes almost a running joke that in spite of its popularity, the only French dance music anyone is in any way familiar with by name is that groundbreaking duo, though one presumes that was more tribute than goodnatured dig.
It was accurate to say the parts where the tunes are delivered and the actors and extras started dancing were the best, as for the duration of those sequences Hansen-Løve managed to convey something of the appeal of the scene, if only by having them sing along with classics like Promised Land to bring out the feeling of togetherness being in a crowd who are all of one mind enjoy, to dance and live for that alone, if only for a night. Other songs are set to montages, an overfamiliar way of eliciting that same feeling, but effective nonetheless, and there’s a neat atmosphere to anything featuring the music, almost reflective in a way that looking back on the times you forgot your troubles can be.
There was a nostalgic streak to Eden, but that was tempered with more realistic elements which indicated the party couldn’t go on forever, or rather it could, but not with the same funseekers. Alas, this was where the drama fell down, as for a start Paul was an unfortunately charisma-free chap who we were not given enough reason to care about; happy things happen to him, sad things happen to him, and he reacts more or less the same, cracking the occasional smile or breaking down in tears a couple of times, but not enough to convince us in the audience he was worth sticking with for over two hours. De Givry didn’t have much on his CV as far as movies went, and it was difficult to understand why he was chosen for the lead when someone with more pep might have fitted it better.
Perhaps the problem wasn’t with the actor but with what he was requested to do, as nothing Paul takes part in looks half as interesting as what certain other characters indulge in. If they were so fascinating, why not make a biopic of Daft Punk, for instance? Hansen-Løve was very much enamoured with their music, and judging by the scenes where it was used could have conjured up a very decent selection of sequences putting that to fine biographical use. Not only them, either, as Paul’s artist friend Cyril (Roman Kolinka) has an intriguing character arc that is given very short shrift so that his ultimate fate makes very little impact – a lot more could have been done with him, and others of Paul’s circle, such as his girlfriends (including Greta Gerwig for a couple of short stretches and more substantially Pauline Etienne) who could have been a better focus for a more rewarding narrative. But nope, on we plod with boring Paul, looking forward to the next time the needle drops and the film springs to life once again.