Mia Hansen-Løve’s new film charts the flight and fall of a struggling musician across two decades of the French electronic scene.
There is a moment Mia Hansen-Løve’s film in which Daft Punk’s ‘Da Funk’ is débuted at a party, and the entire audience, while at first baffled, goes crazy. The film captures initial moments like this: when music (and a scene) had something to it that felt fresh and exciting. But Hansen-Løve’s film mostly captures the inevitable decline of such other artists within the French 1990s electronic scene. Attention spans (for audiences and musicians alike) always tend to move elsewhere, while what once felt new soon becomes old hat. Cruelly in Eden, the majority of the protagonists end up broke, coked-out, or worse, simply become un bobo.
The film is based on the experience of Hansen-Løve’s brother Sven. It follows two decades of Paul (Félix de Givry), a musician who has initial success as a pioneer of a Parisian variant of garage. He’s mates with Daft Punk and a whole host of other artists while they’re all starting off. The film initially captures the exuberance of youth, clandestine parties, initiations into drugs and sex (including a slightly odd and wooden appearance by Greta Gerwig), and the joy of feeling like you’ve discovered a style of music that speaks only to you. But while Daft Punk obviously go on to become huge, Paul gets stuck in mediocrity. The drugs, sex, and music that seemed exciting when it was all new, instead becomes a desperate way to keep on top of things. The money on the other hand: well, that never rolls in at all.
The narrative moves at breakneck pace through the 1990s and 2000s. Little vignettes of Paul’s struggles (and his friends’ struggles) punctuate all of the partying on show. Hansen-Løve does an expert job in showing what makes it all seem so fun and exciting, while simultaneously showing that it is lonely and repetitive. The camerawork is insistent, focusing on faces and bodies, and the score is top notch (featuring a heavy use of Daft Punk, Frankie Knuckles, and other pioneers of the U.S. and French electronic scenes).
It’s not that Paul is a terrible musician. He tours the U.S., and he plays to regular enthusiastic crowds, and puts on shows that are well respected. The film plays more on the desire for stasis, that everything around you moves at such a crazy speed, that if you try to live your life to an ideal from your past, you’ll only be left behind. What once seemed authentic, simply gets co-opted by those who are ‘inauthentic’. The final cruel image is Paul in a cocktail bar in contemporary times, after he has just bumped into Daft Punk, who give him an enthusiastic hello. He looks to the DJ playing a Daft Punk track. All she’s doing is playing off a laptop.