Paradise Lost and Found


Paradise might just be on the dance floor. It’s something that Wolfgang Tillmans, Paul Graham, and a slew of other arists have documented: a collective, communal intimacy with young kids ferally slicked with sweat tripping their way through strobes, neon, and reverb, through to the next track. Mia Hansen-Løve came of age in the 1990s as her older brother, Sven, DJ’d Parisian clubs as one-half of the pioneering French house duo Cheers. The three films she’s made so far, largely autobiographical, deconstruct memory, personal history, and our relationship with the two, to devastating effect. Her fourth, Eden, widens the scope to a movement. “I wanted to make a film about my generation,” she remarks. “I realized that music, more than anything, related me to the others of my generation.”

Hansen-Løve co-wrote the script with her brother, recasting him as Paul (played by Felix de Givry). Eden follows Paul across a 20-year sprawl of a life lost in music, from his first taste of garage—a bass-heavy, deep groove strain of disco-inflected electro that becomes Cheers’ signature—to the sex, drugs, and eventual emotional fallout of his waning success. As the years progress, Paul goes from talented, in-demand, and on-the-rise, to talent-adjacent, as two of his contemporaries Thomas and Guy-Manuel take their group Daft Punk to the big time, tastes turn, and his friends and lovers marry and move on. 

Hansen-Løve recreates many of Sven’s past experiences fictionally though Paul, but treats them with a melancholic intimacy that comes through seeing the trajectory of his life through her own eyes. We spoke with Hansen-Løve last October over coffee at a plush hotel on Central Park West, shortly after Eden premiered at the New York Film Festival. The reliability of memory and its wavering relationship to reality came up immediately; according to Hansen-Løve, it’s one of her major obsessions. Music is, too.

COLLEEN KELSEY: When did you decide that you wanted to make a movie with Sven?

MIA HANSEN-LØVE: I think it was while I was editing Goodbye First Love [2011]. It was a strange feeling at that time for me. It was a film about my adolescence. For me, that’s the most meaningful film I’ve done, because it’s the personal, autobiographical one. It was a film that was more painful to do than others. I felt the need to move on in a way that was more radical. My first two films were very connected. I needed to find a new way to tell a story.

Sven was facing a very difficult time. He was broke. He was dealing with his career as DJ. He was depressed and he wanted to start writing. I saw [director and Hansen-Løve’s husband Olivier Assayas’ ’70s-set] Something in the Air and that made me think of what it would be for me to make a film about my own generation, but also focused on my brother. Goodbye First Love was about my own history. This time I wanted do a film that wasn’t about my specific case.

KELSEY: You’ve written all of your other screenplays alone. What was it like to open up your writing room to a collaborator for this one?

HANSEN-LØVE: Honestly, at the beginning I was kind of reluctant. Sven never asked me to co-write it. It’s me who decided to progressively let him, but first, I didn’t think it would happen. I thought he would give me advice. I was taking notes; I was interviewing him, taking notes on his own memories. He respected the way I wanted to tell the story. He trusted me. The more it went, the more I asked him to write some scenes. I would give him a frame; Sven wrote a lot of the dialogues. I would tell him, “Okay. I want a group of friends. It’s after the party at the Voodoo Bar, it’s five in the morning and they’re eating at Pied De Cochon,” which is a place we used to go.

The other thing we did a lot together during the whole writing process was discussing the soundtrack. That’s also why the writing was so exciting for me. Writing is about solitude, really. I enjoy the solitude and I need it, and it’s the only moment when you make films where you can really be alone, but it’s sometimes painful and long. This was the first time and maybe the only time I was sharing this with somebody I love. It was very easy in a way—easier than anything else I had written. It was tough because it was an ambitious film, but there was total freedom, no censorship from Sven to me. That made it really easy.

KELSEY: Both of you wrote from certain memories and fictionalized them, but were there any mutual discoveries or discrepancies from your point of view of Sven’s experience and Sven’s own that happened during the writing process?

HANSEN-LØVE: For Sven, it had been strange and surprising to discover how much I remembered. Of course we are brother and sister, so I had a lot of memories about him, but I think he discovered while we were writing that I had a very precise point of view on his own story. I remember many things very well. I think he was surprised by how much I remembered his girlfriends. He’s had so many girlfriends and when he was younger he took drugs, and I think he can’t recall all of them. Sometimes there were girlfriends I felt like I remembered better than him. [laughs] It was really weird. Like the girl who’s a DJ, who is so cool. You see her very shortly in the beginning of the film, when he’s just starting his career. Honestly, the girl who inspired this character, she was striking to me because she was my age. I couldn’t forget her. When I wrote the character, after a while, I told [Sven], “You remember who inspired this character, do you?” and he’s like, “No, who?” but then, you know, “Her,” and he was like, “Oh, yeah!” There is this thing that happened quite a lot with the writing of the film, this lack of memory. It’s quite fascinating when you write a film inspired by common memories, the discussions you have about the past, and the way to go back there. Sometimes it felt like we were two people in a big fog.

KELSEY: Actually, one of my next questions was about overlapping memories. Is it more important to represent something how it actually was, or how you remember it, or how Sven remembered it?

HANSEN-LØVE: I’m obsessed with Patrick Modiano’s last book. Modiano is a very famous, great French writer that for some reason I feel very connected to. He’s always writing about memory. He used to write about memory and then it became about difficulty, the memory that’s disappearing. The more it goes, the more it seems to be about recovering memories, the loss of memories, the fog. His books become more and more abstract. In the one I just read, I think in the front of the book, there is a quote from Stendhal saying, “There is no reality, there is just memory of reality.” I have this obsession with the relationship to reality. What is real? What is not real? Reality doesn’t exist. It’s just the way we reconstruct it and the dialogue between the past and the present; how to be present in the world, how to connect with yourself and the past. I guess that’s why all my films are connected [and] have to do with passing of time. It’s always about constructing a past or a life, so that at some point in the film you have the present of the film and you have the memory. The film has its own memory.

KELSEY: Well, in this film in particular, it’s a span of 20 years. It’s incredibly vast.

HANSEN-LØVE: It used to be two films. The scale used to be more epic. We couldn’t find enough money to make two films, so I had to cut out like a third of the script. I wanted to have a first part that was just about euphoria and joy and partying and energy and the second part would’ve just been so depressing. But I like the idea that it was two different movies, so that some people could just stay with the first part. And there would be the others who would be interested in what happened next. But it would have been quite different.

KELSEY: How did you first get started in the scene? Did Sven give you access?

HANSEN-LØVE: I started going out when I was 13. We lived in a place close to Bastille. My brother is seven years older than me, so when he started being a DJ, he was 18, I was 11. First he did some parties in Pigalle and different places, but then he started his duo Cheers with his friend Greg Gauthier. They got this place quite quickly in Bastille, which was really a bar, not a club. That was the nice thing about it. The ceiling was very low. You could smoke at the time. People would dance in the middle of the tables. It was very dark. It was so spontaneous. When you went there, you could feel something was happening. Something that struck me, from the beginning, was that there was a collective awareness; we were living something—something was important. The modernity, the music, the group of very young artists that had a common energy.

Even when I was 13 years old, I would go there and I was extremely proud to be there. I was feeling modernity. The one thing that was very nice about Sven’s parties is that it was both very fashionable and cool, and at the same time, it was always an underground and mixed crowd. Daft Punk used to come, organizers of the different electronic parties would go there and have a drink, but you also had just anybody. It was a very mixed crowd. Cheers was committed to garage and house music, and it really started with the party “Respect is Burning” at The King, which was a club on the Champs Élysées. The one thing that was great about that was that it was free. It wasn’t by accident that it was called “Respect.” It was really an idea of generosity, of being open to everybody. There was innocence. It was fashion but in the way that fashion was at time—girls were wearing sneakers and jeans. No high heels, you didn’t have to be rich. There was something more open and generous about the atmosphere. We didn’t feel like we were rich enough to take a cab at five in the morning. We would walk like one hour home. I have very strong memories of that, going home after spending four, five hours dancing and going back from Champs Élysées and seeing the sun go up.

KELSEY: Throughout the film Paul is looking to attain some sort of destiny. Do you think he arrives at a conclusion or a beginning at the end of the film?

HANSEN-LØVE: For me, the film is like a long detour [for him] to arrive at himself. It’s his destiny that he had to go and dip into the world of music. That was his vocation, and his love for garage music was his identity, but at the same time, the moment where he’ll really be 100 percent with himself is starting to write or being able to write. At the end of the film, a door opens. There is this sentence from a film where a character finally finds a girl he loves and he says, “Oh, the long way I had to go to finally get to you.” In my film it’s different because he doesn’t get to a new girl. At the end he’s alone, but maybe that’s what he needed to get to. I think the last scene when he’s at home and reads the Robert Creeley poem, it’s the very first scene in the film where you see him alone. Ultimately, the film brings you to the possibility of you solitude as something necessary, something that has to do with your freedom. He’s becoming himself.