"I don’t make films with messages"
by Domenico La Porta
- French director Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air is competing in Venice
French director Olivier Assayas spoke to Cineuropa about Something in the Air [+see also:
interview: Olivier Assayas
film profile], his latest feature film selected for the official competition at the 69th Venice Film Festival.
These post-1968 youth are interested in the working class, but you don’t portray them as actually coming from it. Is there a reason for this?
Olivier Assayas: Beyond the main character, who is the one that resembles me most as he is from an artistic and quite bourgeois background, I did not define the other characters’ social backgrounds. They come from the Parisian middle class in which I grew up. It’s a young circle with people from everywhere. There were workers, employees, artists, and civil servants. These are secondary school students discovering the world, not those who actually brought about the 1968 revolution.
The first protest is particularly violent. Did you invent this concept of a pair of policemen on their motorbikes using their truncheons like in an episode of Mad Max ?
French riot policemen on motorbikes, the special brigades that I show in the film, were still new in 1971 but they were very real. They didn’t exist in 1968 and were later dissolved following a secondary school student’s death after he received a bad blow.
Why did you wait all these years to describe this era in finally quite a sad way?
I had already made a film about my adolescence, Cold Water, but my approach [to making it] was more poetic than in Something in the Air which seems more fictional to me. I don’t know if the film is sad. There is the presence of love, tenderness, and nature, but it’s true that I have slightly stepped away from works that describe adolescence as a wildly fun period of partying and flirting. This is not how I remember it. I remember a certain melancholy and political seriousness. Leftism was quite sad and violent, and this was reflected among the youth upholding the changes of May 1968, who asked themselves how they could join this movement for change to be heard and serve a purpose.
Does the film carry a message of hope for the future?
I don’t make films with messages. [In the film,] I describe a period that existed and a generation of politically conscious students’ faith in the future. From these events that I wanted to portray as faithfully as possible, members of the audience can extract their own message if they want. I don’t think cinema is a means of communication. It’s an art. It can show the contradictions in our complex world for the audience to make up their own mind. I don’t wish to direct their gaze, or inform them in a certain way. That’s the job of journalism.
Do you think that a free press revolution like the one shown in the film would still be possible nowadays?
I don’t think so, and I think that the film lets transpire my disillusionment on the subject. Today, information has been democratised for best and for worst. Everything is accessible to everybody the whole time. Back then, of course, this was not the case. The powerful held the monopoly over information and counter culture was a network that developed as a motivated, transnational act of militancy. Counter culture, free press, and experimental cinema were minority movements, and therefore had a powerful aura that today has been lost.