Directed by: Olivier Assayas.
Written by: Olivier Assayas.
Starring: Clément Métayer (Gilles), Lola Créton (Christine), Felix Armand (Alain), Carole Combes (Laure), India Menuez (Leslie), Hugo Conzelmann (Jean-Pierre), Mathias Renou (Vincent), Léa Rougeron (Maria), Martin Loizillon (Rackam le Rouge), André Marcon (Le père de Gilles).
You can never quite figure out what Olivier Assayas is going to make next. He has made some great films – like his six hour masterpiece Carlos about one of the most infamous terrorists of all time and Summer Hours, a quiet film about a family home getting sold, and the family members losing some sort of connection as a result. He has made other films – like the highly regarded (but to me awful) demonlover about corporate politics, or the thriller Boarding Gate, which seemingly doesn’t have a beginning of an end, and just expects the audience to keep up. Or the more conventional drug addict drama Clean. Perhaps the one thing that connects them all is that while all the films are rather intimate stories, they speak to larger more political concerns. The same is true of his latest film, Something in the Air, which somehow manages to be both nostalgic, and realistic.
There is little plot in Something in the Air – the original French title was Apres Mai - After May - and in France that needs no explaining. In May 1968 the student protests and riots basically shutdown the country. This movie takes place a few years later – in 1971 – and focuses on kids who missed out on those protests, but wish they hadn’t. They have serious discussions about politics, communism, art, love and films. They smoke – a lot – and drink – a lot – and while there are a lot of parties, and a fair bit of sex, no one seems to be having too much fun. They take everything too seriously for that.
The movie focuses on Gilles (Clement Metayer), a stand-in for Assayas himself, who seems slightly less committed than many of his friends. Yes – he protests. He shows up at the demonstrations, hands out fringe newspapers, commits acts of vandalism and some things more serious than that, but from the start, I think he sees how futile most of what they are doing is. This isn’t to say he doesn’t take things seriously – he does, in fact, in some ways he takes them more seriously, because he doesn’t want to just buy in to what the left is selling hook, line and sinker, but is a more critical thinker. But as the film progresses, and many of his friends get more involved in the movement, he slowly slips away – goes to art school, starts working on mainstream films as a production assistant, and eyes a future career.
As I said, the movie is largely plotless – it drifts from one scene to the next, from one heavy conversation to another, one party to the next, one packed van to the next one, and as it does, so does Eric Gautier’s wonderful cinematography. The camera seemingly floats through the movie, right there observing everything without judgment.
How much you know about this time period will likely effect how much you like Something in the Air – with people having lived through this time period probably most likely to relate to the film. For someone like me, born in 1981, Something in the Air seems more like a piece for a time capsule – a more honest and realistic version of many of the films from the 1960s that showed the protest movement as it was going on. Assayas is obviously nostalgic for this time period – nearly all of us are in one way or another for those few years in our late teens and early twenties when seemingly everything was possible. But he also sees it far more clearly than most do. It’s possible to feel sorry for some of the people in the movie – so committed to their ideals, so incapable of seeing things clearly.
For me, Something in the Air ends up being little more than a curiosity piece. It’s well made – and has moments of greatness (like the post screening Q&A of a documentary shown on the streets), but overall, it didn’t add up to very much for me. However, if you’re closer to Assayas’ age, it’s quite possible you’ll love it.