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.
You mean when I realized how close it was to my other films?
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.
You’re speaking more eloquently than most people I know, so you’re doing just fine. Your brother was open about the process of it, but was it strange to hear him share those experiences, to get that window into his life? Did you not know a lot of these things before you started writing them down?
No, it wasn’t strange, because we were very close already, and I knew a lot about his life. I mean, I didn’t know everything — and I still don’t — but I knew the problems he had faced; I knew about the drug thing. I had been spending so much time in the parties, and I had known most of his girlfriends. Sven is very open about it. At least with me, I’ve always been a little bit of his confidante — like a lot of younger sisters. He left our home quite early — like, when he was 16, he lived on his own — but he used to go home every two days, he would come, and he would tell me about… not about the drugs, but he would bring the music. He was always giving me vinyls and CDs. It’s really thanks to him that I discovered this music scene. But he was also telling me a lot about his girlfriends, looking for advice from a girl’s perspective. So I had the feeling to know his story quite in an intimate way.
The other thing is that, I think when we started writing the film together, I think Sven wanted, violently, to turn the page, to change his life. And I say “violently” because I think it was a matter of death or life for him, really, and so it didn’t have any… that’s why I was saying that he tried to protect his memories, because he had a very cold look at his own story. In a way, I was almost more shy than he was. He wasn’t sentimental about his story at all. At some points he became more, while we were doing the film and it was over and he realized, “Wow.” But when he wrote it, he had such a big distance to that, and some kind of lucidity, that it was very helpful for me, because I felt free — I didn’t feel like there were some things I wasn’t allowed to say.
There was no censorship at all, and I think that was the only way that I could make this film with him. Because if I had felt at some point that there weren’t some things I was allowed to say, or that it was putting pressure on me and how I should tell the story, I couldn’t have told him. But he let me totally free. It was as if he didn’t care about my point of view. I mean, he respected my point of interest; he didn’t try to have any kind of control over that. It was just writing the scenes that I wanted him to write.
Did you feel differently than him? Was there ever an interest in bringing more sentimentality or warmth to this chronicle?
I think I’m totally sentimental. I think he ultimately is, but, just at that point… we are both so sentimental. I think all sentimentality determined the way we’ve been living and the choice we’ve made in our life. But, yeah, it’s true that in the process of writing and the specific moment, he wasn’t sentimental at all — but, ultimately, I think he is. I think I am sentimental, and, again, my films — and that’s one of the many things they have in common — in many ways, they are determined by love. I think it’s maybe the only theme of my films. My films are all about love. In this case, it’s love for music. It’s not love for girls. This character can’t really find the woman of his life, because he always has to change, and he can’t find stability. But there’s this love for music that stays with him until the end. In all of the films, you have the issue of permanence, persistence of the feelings, and the inability to get rid of your feelings. I’m really like that, and I think Sven is, in his own way. Not on the same level, but it’s something we have in common.
At one point in the film, we see the main character’s younger sister playing a piano in his family home. I assume this is just a version of yourself.
Was it strange to cast and direct that part? I can’t even imagine.
No. But, you know, it’s such a short part, actually. I, at some point in the beginning, asked myself, “Is there going to be a big part for the sister?” It didn’t really make sense. It’s not like I wanted not to be there. I really trust my inspiration, and, when I wrote it, it didn’t feel like there has to be a sister who should be there, because I need to be there. But she has, actually, one scene, it’s the scene where he brings her a CD and asks to find the piano notes for him. That’s something that really, actually happened. You know how you have these memories that are still in your mind and you don’t know why? It’s not something special or important, but I have this strong memory of him coming at some point, asking me to find the notes. I was playing piano, I found them, and that was this specific track.
The movie has the feeling of a long, recollected life. Not so much following him in a moment, but the sense of “remembering” these events — particularly through editing. I love how you jump from year to year with little sense of change in the character. It didn’t feel like some big event to me. Do you know what I mean?
I mean, you made the movie, so…
You know, the thing about the memory, I could say so much about it; it’s really an obsession of mine. Maybe I’m not answering right, the question, but I tell you, it’s weird you’re talking about that, because on the plane I was reading, you know this writer, Modiano? He’s a great French writer, and all of his books are really both about memory and… forgetness? There is the paradox about Modiano’s books, that they are all about remembering — like, it’s all about characters who have to remember. It’s about the presence of the past, how it comes back in the present. And, at the same time, all of his books are about characters who can’t remember things. You always have this duality between remembering and forgetting. It’s all about that, and, ultimately, you have the feeling that everything is in the fog in his books, and I’m kind of obsessed with his work.
Sometimes I read, in France, reviews that compared my work to his books. I don’t know why, actually, because it’s very different, but what I mean is that I have the same feeling about memory that, for me, the strange thing is that I’m obsessed with the passing of time, making films that deal with moments. I want to remember, in a way, to keep them. You know? To get them again, because they will disappear. All my films are about memory. And, at the same time, like, I don’t remember anything. I’m so bad at remembering the dates. I don’t know the years of anything, I don’t know when my films were released, I don’t know where my baby was born — I mean, I’m really bad at chronology.
I think it has to do with the fact that feelings in my life are so important, that everything that’s material tends to be in fog, you know? It’s as if the only thing I can remember are not the events. I mix all the festivals. I’m thinking, for example, with the films. I could take another example, but what I mean is that I tend to mix everything, and the only thing I remember is, like, who I was in love with at the time. And what I mean is, like, for me, making a film is like just reconstructing, reinventing a memory that I actually don’t have. It’s a mixture of, like, going back to moments from the past I want to leave again, but also recreating moments that actually disappeared.
Maybe the strangeness… I’m talking about strangeness because people tell me, “Oh, the way you construct a story, with all these ellipses is fluid, but, at the same, time it’s full of ellipses,” I think it has to do with that. Because basically the way I write is, I just choose the moments I want to film, that I want to get again, and I just put them in a row. It’s not like I don’t care and it’s simple and easy; it’s hard. It’s a lot of work. It’s not like I just put them in like that. What I mean is, the way I work is really ideal with my memories and the moments of the past that I need to have. And I see how to connect them to one another.
But it’s not like storytelling in the more traditional way, where, “Oh, the character will be going from A to B. It’s because he’s doing that and because he’s doing that, he needs to do that afterwards, and that will have the consequence that he will do that.” You know what I mean? That’s how you are told to tell stories, usually. But, for me, it’s like, “Oh. There was this time when we were at the what’s-it bar — oh, and there were these feelings, oh, and there was this song, oh, and there was this girl that was so particular, and I want to make some kind of portrait of her. Oh, and then there was a radio thing.” You know, I connect one thing to another, and then I see what happens, you know, and what it tells me about this character’s life when I see all these moments all put together. I think it’s a much more impressionist way of working. I think my films, from the style, are deeply connected to impressionism. Sorry if I say it in a very complicated way. I’m just trying to figure it out.
You’ve talked about the similarities between this and Inside Llewyn Davis. Were you surprised upon seeing that movie and realizing that someone had a similar approach to telling this kind of story?
You know, the first time I’ve heard of… I really have this obsession with this film, because of the similarities. I know it’s not the same film at all, and I don’t pretend to make films that look like Coen brothers films. There’s nothing pretentious about that, but it’s true that there is a connection in this parallel you have in both films. Two artists, one who is successful and the other who fails, in a way. The first time I’ve heard about the Coen brothers film was through Greta Gerwig, who had just read my script, and she had also read their script, for some reason, and she was the first one who was really struck by the similarities. I started to, I was like, “Oh, yeah?” She said, “I know. It’s really weird, because I just read the Coen brothers film, and there’s this parallel.” Because I love their work, I was immediately, like, appealed. “Oh, what is this film about?” There was this connection.
Then I saw the trailer, and I was even more fascinated — and then I saw the film, and, honestly, I was devastated. I love the film very much. I love it. I think it’s a masterpiece, for reasons that have to do with what my own film is about, but also for reasons that have nothing to do with it, because, for me, it’s a film about them. I think one thing that moved me so much about it was that, as I understand it, the process of the film, I feel very connected to this kind of process, because me, I make films to remember the people I love and care about.
For me, Inside Llewyn Davis is a film about them, the two brothers, asking themselves, “What if one of you would die? Would I survive?” I really saw the film like that. “What is one of us died? How could I exist without you?” I thought it was so beautiful that they actually made the film. It’s like a dialogue between one another. You could say the film could be from both of their perspectives, you know? It’s about the possibility of losing, about grief in advance. Anyway. [Laughs] When I start talking about Inside Llewyn Davis… it’s a film that really was very important for me, and I do think there is a very similar parallel between Bob Dylan in Llewyn Davis and Daft Punk with Félix / Paul in my film.
Eden enters a limited release on Friday, June 19.