Idealism as sincere sign of the times
by Boyd van Hoeij
- "I live in fantasies and when reality comes knocking on my door, I don't open," says the protagonist of the latest film by French director Olivier Assayas
Olivier Assayas's film plays in competition at the Venice Film Festival.
Called After May or Après mai [+see also:
interview: Olivier Assayas
film profile] in French, the film examines the generation of secondary-school teenagers that tried to come of age after the tumultuous societal upheaval of May 1968, which began with student protests.
Set in the early 1970s, the same timeframe in which Assayas received his education, the film shows that what had began in May 1968 was not merely a one-off event that lasted a month, but rather a movement that instilled in many youngsters a desire for change and the realization that politics was personal. Ironically, as the director shows in the film, many of those involved in the socio-political meetings, protests and illegal actions that were used to make the point to the complacent masses, came from bourgeois backgrounds themselves.
The centre of the loose-limbed narrative is Gilles (Clément Métayer), who sells idealistic newspapers at school, takes part in meetings and covert night-time actions to hang up posters and scrawl bold graffiti on school walls to support their cause, which is clearly political but never sharply delineated, allowing each individual to cling to something they can personally believe in and find something worth fighting for.
Gilles's artist girlfriend, Laure (Carole Combe), admits to Gillles she will be leaving for London, leading Gilles to take up with fellow classmate and wannabe revolutionary Christine (Lola Créton). However, she warns Gilles, who's an aspiring painter himself, that she's no artist like Laure.
If anything, Something in the Air attempts to be a naturalistic look at the early 1970s, free of any kind of wink-wink irony — except for the natural kind that is provided by hindsight. In a slightly detached but never overtly distanced fashion, Assayas observes the seriousness that pervades the discourse and decisions of the youngsters, whether they are talking about their loves or intellectual education.
It is, perhaps also because of the presence of Créton, reminiscent of the tone adopted in Mia Hansen-Love's Goodbye First Love [+see also:
interview: Mia Hansen-Love
film profile], which boldly stated that yes, even a teenager's first love can be a serious, all-consuming affair instead of something that's looked back on later in life with a mix of mockery and shame. Air demands that the fact that teenage protagonists take their activism and convictions so seriously is worthy of our attention, even though audiences in 2012 are perfectly aware that all the kids' work and idealism didn't really change much at all.
This sequel of sorts to Assayas’ Cold Water from 1994, features only non-professional actors (apart from Créton), lending the film a freshness that blends well with its sincere and partially autobiographical approach.