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Mia Hansen-Løve Talks the Memory Trip of ‘Eden’ and the True Meaning of ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’

Written by on June 17, 2015 

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After all the coverage we’ve provided, now is finally the time for a first wave of U.S. audiences to see Mia Hansen-Løve‘s Eden, a fictionalization of her brother’s experiences within and on the periphery of French EDM during its incipient stages, heyday, and eventual transformation. (It is, in some corners, being sold as “the Daft Punk movie,” which is true if you think bookending appearances and a few songs constitute being the central subject.) Although it’s been almost nine months since I saw it, the film has stuck in my memory becuase of the careful, patient eye she lends to the material, as well as the insight that her brother, Sven — upon whom the protagonist is based — brings in co-writing the material. Said I at the time: “Only in retrospect could I understand Eden‘s careful delineation of temporal, emotional, and geographic properties: it wasn’t that the Hansen-Løve siblings had fallen victim to imbalance, but that their taste for structure — or (deep breath) their taste for the delineation of temporal, emotional, and geographic properties — necessitated the full picture to be comprehended with even the slightest of critical responsibility.”

I spoke with Hansen-Løve in New York around its NYFF premiere, at which time the helmer still hadn’t made much in the way of any public statement on what, exactly, she was getting at with this material. Her answers are thus rather full, jumping from one intricacy to the other with the sort of clarity and logic that only a key creative voice could provide. With her sibling, co-writer, and essentially the film’s main subject sleeping next to us on a couch — and with my brain only a bit distracted by the minutes-old news that Twin Peaks would be returning to TV (you really shouldn’t look at your phone before conducting an interview) — she explored the bizarre reality-art dichotomy at play, offhandedly stated the secret lynchpin of her entire oeuvre, and provided me with her own theory on the true meaning of Inside Llewyn Davis.

The Film Stage: I tried to take these notes during the movie, and, as you’ll see, the dark palate of your opening scene messed up my lining a bit. I’d like to start at the beginning and ask about this. What was the idea behind submerging us in darkness and only bringing light when we finally hear music for the first time?

Mia Hansen-Løve: When I write, it’s not like I decide, consciously, what I’m doing and why, but if I have to try and analyze it, maybe it has to do with the fact that my previous films were very much connected with the light. I was always told that they were bright — and of course there was still some darkness in all of my films — but, still, in terms of the aesthetic, the films always had a lot of light in it. For some reason, after making those three films, it was as if I was fed up with myself. I wanted to go somewhere else. There was something about the young girls and the characters, like I was overdosing something from my previous films, and actually, now, when I see the film with a distance, I realize the film is as connected to my previous films as they previous films were to one another.

But I think this darkness you’re talking about at the beginning is maybe a reaction to my previous film, and a desire to find the meaning, the poetry, the beauty through another way, and to go deep inside the darkness, but not in the same way as in those films. This film is, in a way, less dark than my previous films — but, aesthetically, it’s darker. It’s darker, but colorful. That’s the choice we made, also, for the lighting of the clubs: we didn’t add any lighting; we used only the lighting of the clubs from beginning to end. So we made this choice to have the club scenes very, very darkly, sometimes to the limit of what the camera was able to get without adding any lights — the lights that came from the clubs themselves.

I have to follow-up with something you’ve said: one of the things that I liked so much was being reminded of your other films, quite simply because I like your other films. But, based on what you’ve said, I’m now wondering if you were at all disappointed to find Eden resembling the earlier work.

Yoeden_6u mean when I realized how close it was to my other films?

Yes.

No, I wasn’t disappointed. Ultimately, I knew it, from the start, but as soon as I had finished the script, I have enough distance from myself to see all it has in common, and it’s so obvious. The passing of time, the melancholy — I could not not be aware that there was a strong melancholy in the film. But, no, I wouldn’t say I was disappointed or annoyed by that, because I still had the feeling that, even though the themes were similar in many ways, the world I was depicting and the way I was doing it, thanks to the fact that there were so many characters — that was so different from my previous film, because it’s in nightclubs — will make me ultimately move on and move forward and make a film that will still be very different from my previous film.

And actually, I think it is, because — and that really strikes me; sometimes it’s even scary for me — I realized this film, the “public” of this film, is very different. Well, it’s not released yet, but it seems to be very different from my previous films. I mean, fortunately, people who like my previous films — like film critics — most of them follow me with this film, but I still have a feeling — and that’s not something I did on purpose; it’s just happening — because of what the film is about, and the music scene and everything, that the “public” for this film is much more specific and young than my previous, which was more general and art house public.

The other thing about your question that I want to say is, when you write for your own films — and that’s the case; this one I wrote with Sven, but I still have a feeling… I mean, we wrote it together, but I still took care of the storytelling, of the characters — you have to accept the idea that you will possibly be followed by some obsessions and themes. You can’t avoid that, and it’s really annoying, actually. For instance, the fact that I’m writing films that are biographical or autobiographical, I always have to talk about it and justify myself.

Not because people are attacking me on that, but because they’re asking — it’s normal. I would also ask a filmmaker, if I was doing it: how did you write it, why is it… but I do it just because I can’t do another way. I don’t feel like I choose to make films about my brother, my family, people I love. I just make films about things that are the most necessary to me. Every film imposes itself to me, and I would love to make films that are completely different from my life, but it’s like as if there were some kind of hierarchy. I need to go to the essential first before I can move on to something else, and in films, like, as long as I haven’t made the film for every person who’s around me — like, a portrait of this person — I can’t really go someplace else.

I was thinking about that in the taxi this morning, because I’ve been talking about that a lot recently — because of interviews — and I realized, because I was trying to explain it to myself, I need to… you know when you eat, you have the starter, the main meal, and the desert? I can’t start the main meal before I finish the starter. It’s really basic, but because the next film is a portrait of my mother, and I wish I wouldn’t do that. Every time I write a film, I go, “Oh, no, that’s not what I want to do.” But I have to. I have to go to the end of this inspiration before I can move to another place and open another door.

How far along are you with this film concerning your mother?

I wrote it already. Actually, I wrote it one-year-and-a-half ago. Because Eden was so tough to finance that there were entire months where basically nothing was happening, and I just can’t stay, waiting for finance — I get crazy. So I sit on my table and I just wrote a script very quickly. It happened to be a script that was a kind of portrait of my mother, who’s a philosophy teacher. It’s a film I would like to shoot next summer.

One of the things that most interested me is that these club scenes are like few I’ve ever seen. There’s a distance, remove, and sense of observation here that greatly affects the tempo of the movie.

There was an idea, for me, to find a rhythm that wasn’t necessarily the rhythm of the songs themselves. I thought, because it’s going to be such a long film, because it’s going to be full of music, I wanted people to enjoy the music and connect with it, and find a way to film it in a way that they can be moved by the music. But I also want the film to have its own atmosphere, its own rhythm, its own look, and, if I want to have that, I have to take a distance to the music, in a way. Another thing is that I often don’t enjoy how clubs are filmed. I found it quite vulgar. The way it’s clipped, all these close-ups and very short takes, the way it’s edited — chop chop chop chop! — like MTV. You know what I mean? And with extras that look like extras and film sets that look like film sets, not like real clubs.

For me, one of the challenges of the film was to find a way to totally reinvent the clubs. And, strangely, “reinvent” didn’t mean to do something experimental, and go into a fantasy world, and to feel like you’re taking drugs. For me, it felt like filming it in a way that it seems more distanced, maybe, or more realistic, but find a poetry within the realism. I found it, in a way, more audacious — more interesting — than doing it the other way, because I had a feeling the other way was the “official” way. Like, when you make a film about a club and it has to be cool and it has to be glamorous — as if a filmmaker was trying to imitate the feeling of drugs, you know? But maybe because I believe in the invisible, I was more interested in filming it in a way that seems realistic, and finding the poetry and the interiority in another way — but not in a literal way. You know what I mean? It’s hard for me. I’m not fluent, so when I talk English, I always have to try to simplify what I’m trying to say, so sometimes it can seem very abstract.

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