Title: SOMETHING IN THE AIR (Après Mai)
Director: Olivier Assayas
Screenwriter: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Clément Métayer, Lola Créton, Carole Combes, India Menuez, Felix Armand
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 9/26/12
Opens: October 4, 2012 at the NY Film Festival, wide in spring 2013
Demonstrations against governments may be taking place these days in some of the “less developed” nations like Libya and Egypt, but in the late sixties, early seventies, the most progressive countries bore the brunt of high physical action most by the young. Here in the U.S. the youths had a point: end the Vietnam War, because if the conflict continued, there was an ever increasing chance that they would be drafted and become among the 50,000 Americans who did not return. (That there is no draft today is presumably why there are no notable demonstrations against American participation in the Afghanistan conflict.)
Demonstrations in France beginning about 1968 seem to parrot what was going on in America, at least according to a new film by Olivier Assayas, whose “demonlover” traced the efforts of two corporations competing to acquire manga pornography and whose TV series “Carlos,” about the Venezuelan revolutionary indicate the director’s political bent. Even more to the point is his “Cold Water,” about a boy and a girl, Gilles and Christine, who lead purposeless lives, heading south to join a commune.
In the semi-autobiographical “Something in the Air,” which bears the French title meaning “After May,” Gilles (Clément Métayer) and Christine (Lola Créton) are still looking for that purpose in life, which they decide can be achieved through street demonstrations which would hopefully ignite a revolution. They think they are speaking for the proles, the working class, but given their insularity, they have no idea that the workers probably have the same contempt for the idealists that the hard-hats had for them in the U.S. during our own rebellions. Despite a flurry of adventures and incidents that flood the movie, one is left with the nagging suspicion that these anarchists, those who are fighting against the brutal police (whom they provoke in the first place), are battling authority because they hate their fathers. But who knows?
The action takes place over a three-year period, opening in 1971 with a Maoist demonstration that provokes the riot gendarmes to gas the students, then continue to go after them while they are retreating, hitting them with their sticks. One lad loses and eye and some vision in the other one. Nothing stops these rebels without so much as a rational cause: they spread graffiti on the walls of a police station, toss Molotov cocktails, “experiment” with drugs, blow up a car, and, of course, make out.
Gilles and Christine go to Italy to seek some independence after Gilles is dumped by his previous love interest, Laure (Carole Combes). They and their friends talk a good game about the need to free a proletariat that “may not know” that they are repressed. Then again, at no time do they ever talk with a factory worker, an auto repair person, a plumber, to find out what they want from the students, if anything.
In any case Assayas, now at the age of 57, seems more interested in reflecting on his own youth, longing for the freedom these kids enjoyed more than his own generation to sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll (the soundtrack is filled with the likes of Syd Barrett-era and Nick Drake). Gilles can paint as he does here with abstractions, though we doubt that he will make a living from this. Nonetheless he has contempt for his tradition-bound author father whom he rebuffs when asked to assist the man whose Parkinson’s is causing him to lose his ability to type or hold a pen. But who cares about responsibilities when you’re in high school and can set haystacks on fire, dancing about the blaze with the abandon that only youth can fully enjoy?
Unrated. 122 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B-
Technical – B
Overall – B-