I thought of starting this review out to reflect something I said awhile back in another. I started by saying something to the effect of “it should be by way of some sort of miracle that I happened to stumble upon this film”. And that’s the first thought that entered into my brain after the house lights came on after having seen Mia Hansen-Love’s (the French 34-year old writer/director who’s married to a little known guy by the name of Olivier Assayas) latest film. All I really knew was that it had been selected, screened at, and opened to quite a bit of positive praise at many of this past year’s most prestigious film festivals. That and it touted itself as being THE most quintessential film about the electronic music scene to date.
The film was co-written by writer/director Love’s real life brother, Sven, about his experiences as a successful music DJ/Producer who practically lived through what many electronic music fans would undoubtably agree was the hey day of electronic music, particularly that of the House/Disco scene that was coming out of Europe in the early to mid nineties and lasted for the next 20 years. It revolves around its central character, Paul (Felix de Givry, in what was my first introduction to him as an actor), a late teenager in early nineties Paris, France. Paul and his friends are stuck in a time where the electronic music scene, particularly in Europe, where the music seemed to really be taking off with artists like the Godfathers of House music, Daft Punk (who are featured regularly throughout the film as fictionalized versions of themselves and in the film’s soundtrack). Paul and his friends live, breathe, eat, and sleep electronic music. The scene is going through what some may call a rebirth or revitalization, and Paul and his fellow music friends seem to live for any single chance they can get to attend any of Paris’ many underground electronic events that take place each and every weekend. It’s not long before Paul and one of his fellow electronic music fans start to aspire to be on the other side of the dance floor and become DJ’s themselves. He forms a duo called “Cheers” and their events start to spread throughout Europe via word-of-mouth and ultimately to the States. The film goes on to explore these two decade plus years of Paul and his mates as they go on to become to be internationally recognized figures while also giving us a complete and comprehensive overview of what their experiences were like, the highs and lows, and trials and tribulations of being successful DJ’s at the time when the scene was exploding and experiencing a burgeoning renaissance.
What can I say about this film other than it was nothing short of both incredible and astonishing. As a devoted lover of electronic music this film felt like the ultimate love letter to not only myself, but to legions of fans around the world as it just could possibly be the most accurate and comprehensive look at a pivotal moment in history within the genre. Then there’s the character of Paul (played remarkably by Felix de Givry) who literally grows up before our eyes. From his young days as a late teenager transitioning into adulthood in his twenties, to the 20 year period that followed where he immerses himself into the world of electronic music. At times I got hints of Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” as we follow Paul for on his 2 decade plus journey through the music that runs through every moral fiber of his body. We see how his commitment to his passion affects his family, his continuous failed relationships (one of which is with the great American actress Greta Gerwig, who plays a small but important role in Paul’s life), to his struggles with cocaine addiction. And what becomes an underlying subplot that I personally could relate to in being so passionate about something that it becomes difficult to break away from it. Change doesn’t come easy for any of us, and in the context of this film, neither does it for Paul. As the world seems to grow and change as time goes by, so do the people around Paul, except his commitment to his love and work doesn’t really allow for much in terms of personal growth. This was just one in a film that explored a number of many other brilliantly explored subplots. Making Paul’s rise to an internationally renowned DJ/Producer feel like an expert character study of a man that’s so committed and dedicated to his life’s work. That when the party starts to fade away and the scene begins to change, like anything in life, Paul isn’t quite sure how to change along with it. This all bolstered by an excellent soundtrack of House (or as Paul would call it “Garage” music – i.e. House + Disco) music as well as some more contemporary electro tracks. As a music fan overall but especially an electronic music aficionado, this is the best collection of songs put to screen from the genre since Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting” (1997) soundtrack almost two decades ago. Lastly, what I’ll end on saying is this – what I love most about the art of film is when you can see part of yourself mirrored in it and come to a greater understanding about who you really are through the eyes of another director’s lens. And it becomes intimately personal. Then you know you’ve just lay witness to something spectacular. Which is exactly how I felt walking out of this film. The film’s message to me was clear and something that all of us either have or could relate to at some point, which is letting go of the person we saw ourselves as in our youth and accepting the permanent person that we’ve become. It’s a cathartic, self-revelatory, and utterly rewarding experience. And a film that ranks up there with this year’s best right alongside “Ex Machina” which should bode well and wind up as a serious top 5 contender come my end of the year best of list.