• Pauline Etienne and Félix de Givry as Louise and Paul in Eden

Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden, which opens today at the Music Box, is easily one of the best movies to premiere in Chicago this year. At once intimate and epic, the film mines universal observations about aging and the loss of innocence from a seemingly arcane subject—the two-decade rise and fall of a subgenre of French electronic music known as garage. It’s a rousing work—marked by consistent visual invention and an exalted, romantic tone—but also a very sad one. As I wrote the other day, it nearly renders palpable the feeling of time slipping away; I also wrote that it feels a bit like wandering through someone’s memories.

Eden is based on the career of Hansen-Løve’s older brother Sven, a former garage DJ turned novelist, yet rather than deliver a familiar biographical narrative, the film flits unpredictably between major and minor events (not to mention public, inviting the audience to lose themselves in his memories as if they were their own). A couple weeks ago I spoke with Sven Hansen-Løve and Félix de Givry—who plays Hansen-Løve’s onscreen alter ego, Paul—about the film’s special vibe. Our discussion of film form quickly segued into a discussion of memory itself.

Ben Sachs: Whenever I think back to Eden, I usually think first of the introduction of Louise (Pauline Etienne), the woman with whom Paul has an off and on relationship for several years. The film shows her arguing with another character, then she disappears for a while. It’s only a little later that we get any sense of who she is or how she relates to Paul. I’m curious if she’s introduced this way in the script or if this decision came later, when the film was being edited.

Sven Hansen-Løve: I think this has a lot to do with Mia’s direction, which is of course realistic, but she wants things to be very alive. So in this case, [the introduction of Louise] reflects that when you never know everything about someone when you meet them. More often, it’s like there’s this person who’s around you and then comes near.

Félix de Givry: I remember reading the script and in that scene, for instance, the character isn’t referred to as Louise at first. She’s just described as “a girl” until someone mentions her name . . . only when you know her name is written as “Louise.”

Hansen-Løve: It’s also fascinating how when you meet someone who’s going to be important in your life, often you realize retrospectively that that person had been around you for a while. She’d been popping up, but then all of a sudden she was facing you. I think Mia wanted Louise to appear in a way that we already feel there’s something about the girl that’s quite peculiar. If you remember, she’s fighting with a guy, very intense, but you don’t know what she’s fighting about. And I remember that my sister wanted the fight to be more concrete in the beginning. I think she shot some versions where we hear what she’s fighting about—she’s fighting with an ex-boyfriend who’s jealous or something. But then she decided she didn’t want to do that anymore, and she preferred that [the fight] was more in the shadows. You don’t hear anything specific. You just know that she’s fighting with someone already.

Does your sister often shoot multiple versions of scenes in the film?

Hansen-Løve: I wouldn’t say multiple versions, but sometimes we shot more than we kept.

Givry: Yeah, Mia does a lot of takes—like, between 15 and 30 takes of any scene.

Hansen-Løve: And she tries things [on the set] also.

Givry: But the finished film is quite close to shooting script.

Does she encourage improvisation when she does multiple takes?

Givry: Mostly in group scenes, less in personal scenes. But there’s this actor, Vincent Macaigne [who plays Arnaud, aka DJ Respect, in the film], who’s particularly an improvisation guy. He’s very generous to other actors. So in the group scenes he was adding stuff for us to work with. He was always doing a different version. You know the scene in the office in the club, and he takes coke and he falls on his face? That was his idea.

Hansen-Løve: I have an anecdote about all the takes Mia does. I’ve worked on every one of my sister’s films, so I know quite well how she works. Actually Eden was the film where she did fewer takes, because the production schedule was too short and we were tight on the budget. It’s nothing compared to her previous film, where she did the most takes. But the crew . . .

Givry: They’re used to it.

Hansen-Løve: Yeah, at the end they were making bets on how many takes she’d do of each scene.

  • Eden

For which scene in Eden did you do the most takes?

Givry: There’s a very simple scene where one of Paul’s girlfriends—the one who looks very young, you know?—she’s doing a memoir. She’s writing, and at first she’s topless, but then she borrows one of Paul’s T-shirts. There’s a shot where she’s about to go away, and they have a very brief kiss, then she goes. We did I don’t know how many takes of that. It was crazy.

Hansen-Løve: She plays very well, that actress.

Givry: Eh, I’m not a big fan of her. But anyway, the cameraman sometimes got stuck because the apartment was very small. We did a lot of takes for that scene.

Why that one, of all the scenes in that apartment?

Givry: I don’t know, but I didn’t like kissing her, and I think Mia was making me pay the price.

Hansen-Løve: You know, sometimes it’s a problem. Because we had, like, many people kissing in the film and sometimes it’s embarrassing because you can tell that the actors [who are kissing] don’t really like each other.

Sven, I understand this film is based on your own experience.

Hansen-Løve: I’d say it’s loosely based on my life.

Regardless of how autobiographical it is, the movie really feels like remembering 20 years of your life in one go. The way it drifts from moment to moment, hitting on all these precise details . . .

Hansen-Løve: Of course, many things are based on real memories, and my sister cares about authenticity—she wants to stay close to the truth. But she also invented some stuff, as did I. When we stopped writing the script three years ago, I couldn’t even remember if certain things really happened to me or not. But sometimes in your own life, if you think about what happened 20 years ago, you create memories. Sometimes you think things are true but they aren’t. That happens. So, yeah, some of the scenes are real and some aren’t, but it’s based on the general, overall feeling of my life. That’s what’s important.

If it’s not too personal of a question, how autobiographical is the subplot with Louise? Because I feel like that really captures an experience that few other movies have done well, which is that relationship that would be perfect if only the partners had a little more life experience under their belts. You know, if they met five years later . . .

Givry: Yeah, they would get married.

Hansen-Løve: Since you’re asking very nicely, I’ll answer your question. [laughs] The relationship with Louise is pretty close to the facts [of my life]. My “Louise” has two little girls, and we did stay in touch for a long, long time [after we dated], until I realized it wasn’t a very healthy thing for me.

Givry: You and I had a discussion, like, two days ago about this girl. We never had it before the film. Apparently the film’s not that close to the events, because in the film, it seems like [Louise and Paul] stay together for a long time, but you stayed with her just two years.

Hansen-Løve: Well, it was one year, then we stopped, and then I saw her again. But at one point I was very close to her and her children. I even went to see her in that one place you see in the film, near Biarritz. Mia wanted the place to be the right one.

Has your Louise seen the film?

Hansen-Løve: I’ve heard she’s seen it, but I’ve gotten no feedback. I’m sure it’s fine, because she’s a nice person, and all we’re saying about her is nice.

  • Eden

What about the character of Margot, the woman Paul spends three years trying unsuccessfully to bed?

Hansen-Løve: Dealing with her was more of a problem. [laughs] That woman came to Paris when the film was released, because she knew she was part of it. But actually that character is really a mix of women who go to the clubs and buy champagne and all that other stuff you see in the film. So I told [the real “Margot”] before she watched the film, “Listen, it’s not really you. It’s a mix of things.” And she said, “OK, I’m sure it’s going to be fine.” But I saw her at the club after the film and she said to me, “You didn’t miss the target.” We talked for a while, though, and it was fine.

I’d like to know how you handled the challenge of depicting the same characters over 21 years. None of the characters look like they change all that much over the course of the film, but you can feel that they grow internally.

Givry: At first, Mia wanted to shoot the movie in order, but that proved hard to do. In the end, we’d do some scenes in the same day that were set in the same place—like [Paul’s] apartment, for example. I had a good relationship with the script, which was very helpful. But as I’ve been saying, I know what it’s like to be a 20-year-old, and by talking with Sven, I have a sense of what it’s like to be around 40. What was harder were the in-between points, when the character’s in his 30s. That’s also when the character’s the most lost, when he doesn’t have any clear idea where he’s going. So it didn’t really matter if I didn’t know how to play the character as well at those points.

Before and after we made the film, Mia and I talked a lot about the author Patrick Modiano, who won the Nobel Prize. His books are a lot about memory.

Hansen-Løve: Yes, the way you deal with memories, and the way that memories can be lies sometimes.

How does that come through in the film?

Givry: It’s a sort of double level. Well, like, people say it’s the story about a guy who doesn’t make it. But it’s [also] the opposite: it’s about a guy who does make it to his goal of being happy as a writer—DJing is just an illusion in the end. So there’s that level. And then there’s the level of Mia’s relationship to the film. Mia always says, “I went into cinema so early that I didn’t really live my youth. The only memories I have of youth are of going to Sven’s parties.” [Mia Hansen-Løve began writing criticism for the legendary French journal Cahiers du cinema when she was in her teens and directed her first film at 25.] You know, when she was 13 and 14, she would go to these parties where Sven DJed. So the movie is Sven’s memories, but they’re also hers.

But how do you create this double layer on film? That’s what I want to know.

Givry: It wasn’t very conscious. I think it’s a mixture of the script and maybe the role of the music, which has a different feel.

The mix of euphoria and melancholy, as one character puts it.

Givry: And this, I think, adds up to the feeling of the film.

Hansen-Løve: I think the word “melancholy” has a lot to do with memories. It’s this moody way of being that can arrive when you cross the present moment with some sense of the past.