Originally written for Clash in July 2015. Read the original article here.
An epic love letter to the rise of the French touch in the early 1990s, director Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden offers a beguiling portrait of house music’s tentative steps in to the mainstream.
Lovingly crafted around the real-life experiences of Hansen-Løve’s elder brother Sven as a successful house DJ in the 1990s, it charts the rise and fall of Paul (Félix de Givry), an idealistic young DJ. Fascinated by the unique sounds of Chicago’s garage house scene, he soon finds himself swept from the Parisian nightlife in to an intoxicating global scene of drugs, sex and thumping dance anthems.
Paying tribute to dance music in the most fitting way imaginable, with its fictionalised depiction of a young Daft Punk and one of the year’s most enviable soundtracks to boot, Eden is quite unlike any music film you’ve seen before. I caught up with the director to discuss the creative process behinds film, the mechanics of licensing its soundtrack and what it’s like to be turned down by legendary pop jokers, The KLF.
You worked very closely with your brother Sven on the film, drawing heavily on his own unique experiences of the scene. How did he find the process?
I could feel he had fun doing it and he felt free, and I think also the fact that he wasn’t responsible for the main structure and story made him feel, in a way, even freer, or less anxious, about it. And because it was so easy I started to ask him to write more and more and by the end it was more like co-writing… I was the one telling the story and choosing the characters and what the film was about, but in terms of the dialogue, he took care of a lot of it. Actually, the part where he wrote the most was really the part when they’re really having fun.
So, essentially, the first part of the film?
(Laughs) Yes, the second part is more melancholic. I probably wrote more of it than he did. But all the parts that had to do with the party scenes and the group scenes – those are moments that he wrote a lot. And also, it’s not only collaborating, it’s not only the fact that he co-wrote the film… There wasn’t a single step in the process of the film where he wasn’t at my side because I needed him; we chose the music together from the start. It’s something that we did at the same time as we wrote the film.
I needed him to teach the actors how to DJ. I needed him to get the real people from the scene to play their own parts in the film – they were people he knew. I needed him to help with the choice and discussions about the clubs, the sets. Sometimes I asked for his advice on the clothes, especially for his own character. It was always very relevant and interesting for me to have his point of view on all of this stuff.
The music obviously plays an integral part of the film but I understand that the licensing process proved to be quite difficult?
It was very diff… well, it was both difficult and easy, because for me it was a very unique thing to do. I guess I will never do a film about house music again, or a film that involves so much music, but it was very interesting because I had three different producers for this film. It was incredibly difficult to finance and one of the reasons is that my first producer, a producer that I love who produced my three first films and thought I would always stay with them, they were terrified by the amount of songs that were in the film and they thought it would be so expensive. So they asked somebody to estimate the cost of that, and it was like €1 million and at that point we didn’t have €2 million to make the film and it seemed like we needed €10 or €12 million, so it seemed unreachable. So it was totally discouraging and I think they were really petrified by that.
But my brother and I always had the conviction that we could do it for much, much, much less because we knew… most of the musicians who were involved in the film are musicians from the garage and house scene and we knew that they would be supportive of the film, because you don’t have films about this music really. And they were, so the fact that they were and also the fact that Daft Punk supported the film from the start allowed us to make a deal with all the artists that they would all be paid the same price and almost all of them agreed except, like, three artists.
Can you name names?
Yeah, I don’t mind. It’s The KLF. I’m still traumatised that I couldn’t get the song. I’ve been trying for a year and half. I wrote them letters, but it didn’t work.
They’ve sort of disappeared off the face of the earth.
They have, but they haven’t. They’re still alive (laughs).
And they still can say “no”, and they didn’t want us to use their song and it made us really sad.
Which song of theirs was it that you wanted to use?
‘Last Train To Trancentral’. It’s the scene where Paul sees his friend kissing a girl and then he looks for him and asks him where the girl he was with is and he can’t remember, so you don’t know which of them is higher than the other. And I wrote that scene thinking of the music – for me that scene was deeply connected with the music. Ultimately, I changed it and I really love the song that we ultimately chose, which was a song by The Orb, but I mean that was a big disappointment, that I couldn’t convince them to let me use their music.
Did you speak to them directly? Because I know they’re strange guys. Their reputation kind of precedes them.
No, I just wrote a letter and it was given to them, but they didn’t want to be involved from the start. We just insisted so much that they pretended to take our request seriously, but I think they knew from the start that they didn’t want to have any of their music used. They said they didn’t want to have any of their music to be any part of the commercial world at any time and that, when they were dead, that would be left to their children’s responsibility.
That sounds like The KLF.
And I was trying to explain to them that my film wasn’t, from my point of view, part of the commercial world, but I couldn’t convince them. So that’s the one I couldn’t get and the other ones were ‘Teardrops’ (by Womack & Womack) and ‘Lost In Music’ by Sister Sledge, but as revenge I used it as the title for the second half of the film (laughs).
I did wonder why the song title was in there and the song itself wasn’t.
I was really angry about that, because that was a song that was really there from the start and, for obvious reasons, I felt really connected to that song. But actually I love the song that replaced it too. It’s a totally unknown song, but it’s another disco song that I found very moving. It’s ‘Just As Long As I Got You’ by Love Committee and it’s right at the end of the film where he’s doing this party for new year’s eve and nobody’s coming and there is this disco song playing. It’s quite sad, it’s strong and powerful, I think. But there were only three songs that I couldn’t use, so ultimately, when you think about it, it’s nothing compared to the 45 that I could use for a very small, modest price. That was really both thanks to the fact that Daft Punk supported the film and to the fact that the musicians and editors from the garage scene also supported the film.
Did delays in production ultimately change the way the film was constructed? Obviously it ends in the present day, and you ended up being able to use music from ‘Random Access Memories’ as a result of those delays.
It was always meant to be leading to the present. It was really important to me from the start that it would end today. Because time passed, when I wrote it, it was 2012 and ‘Random Access Memories’ wasn’t released yet and so as time passed, the album was released, so I realised it totally made sense to move the film to a year later so that when the film ends the album is released, even if it’s not explicitly referred to in the film… I used ‘Within’ and when the album was released and, like a lot of people, I was listening to it a lot, I was so moved by this track. It made sense to me and it felt like it was written for the film, which it wasn’t, of course.
But I loved this idea to connect this with Daft Punk and to make the film in a way that you have this parallel… “la boucle est bouclée” we say in French, which means the story is over for Paul, but something of the Daft Punk story has also finished at the same time. And this timing was very interesting to me.
I was noting the dates as the film progressed and 1997 was the year that ‘Homework’ came it and 2001 was the year that ‘Discovery’ came out.
2001 is really where they are at the top of their success and all the dates are written in smaller writing.
Yeah, that’s an interesting point – the use of typography in the film is quite striking.
Well, graphic design has been very important for the scene. I’m trying to make a film about house music but also about this whole generation that later was called the French Touch and when we talk about the French Touch we think of the DJs and musicians that became famous, but actually you can’t really disconnect that from the graphic design. And so that’s why we decided to work with young designers.
One of them was doing the actual writing and the other was taking care of the drawings and we were very interested in this idea of including this aspect as part of the film, in order to reflect the fact that this movement was rich artistically; it wasn’t just about music. And there’s this aesthetic that’s connected to that and the way we chose the graphics in the film was related to the aestheticism of this group. We didn’t try to reproduce it. It’s different, but it’s still connected with the aesthetic that has to do with the movement around the French Touch.