Something In The Air

Something In The Air

****1/2

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Olivier Assayas's astonishing and intense Something In The Air is not interested in trinkets to outfit nostalgia, and gives the clothes and the music their proper place in a much more discerning way than most directors do. Something In The Air shows the influence of May '68 on the youth of the Seventies, the widespread political awareness and activism, the daily decisions in the aftermath of the happily revolutionary ever after.

In 2005, Assayas wrote a book called Une adolescence Dans L'Après-Mai. The title (Après Mai is the film's French title), as well as the changes in the air at the beginning of the Seventies, seen from the perspective of a young man, connect the different stories with autobiographical hinges.


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We begin on February 9, 1971, the day of the demonstration at Place de Clichy in Paris. Assayas introduces his protagonists at school that morning, and has a teacher read Blaise Pascal to them. "Between us and Heaven or Hell there is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world."

You may notice here, how rare it is in movies that scenes in classrooms are actually about teaching something to students, and not about personal attitude problems of who is bored, or who hates whom. The truthfulness and lack of cynicism gives you fresh air to breathe.

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The film also explores the violence with which the authorities repressed the demonstration on February 9. A riot control brigade with two policemen on each motorcycle, the one in the back armed with a baton, drives into the demonstrators and clubs them down. One of the young activists, Richard Deshayes, is hit in the face by a smoke grenade, loses one eye and has the other eye damaged. The poster of his bloodied head is seen throughout as a reminder that the smoke and the fire are there for a reason.

These events we see mostly through the eyes of Gilles (Clément Métayer in his first role). The suburban high school is around the corner from the small town square with chickens on the road. We see Gilles buy his four newspapers, read Tout and Parapluie, pick up the demonstration posters and the bookstore where he purchases Simon Ley's Mao's new clothes.

Most real, and at once divine, are the scenes in nature. When Gilles meets his girlfriend Laure (Carole Combes), she walks toward him on a forest path in a long white lacy dress and is every bit the muse. Her risky perfection haunts Gilles and the rest of the movie. After they make love, she critiques his artwork, hands him a copy of Gregory Corso's book Gasoline, and tells him not to visit her in London, nor Ibiza, where she is going for the summer.

Christine, played by the wonderful Lola Créton, who lit up the screen in Mia Hansen-Løve's terrific Goodbye First Love (2011) is part of Gilles' group of activists at school. One night, they sneak into the schoolyard, spray Vive la Révolution on the building, put up the posters of Deshayes' s mangled face, and spread leaflets behind on the ground.

Night guards, young men, not much older than they are, interrupt and run after them with clubs in a remarkable chase through the nightly green of the sleeping suburb, and Assayas uses no music to fiddle with the great impact of the scene. The running footsteps disturbing the sounds of an early summer night with a dog barking at just the right time demonstrate, how a masterful filmmaker can transport his audience.

When Assayas uses music in his film, he wants you to be aware of it. He shows, almost like an enjoyable experiment, what happens when song and image meet.

On the other hand, "I love you with your conscience and your convictions", is a wonderful line of dialogue that does not need musical reinforcement.

A second nightly outing of the friends to the school, has a terrible outcome.

During the summer, Gilles is torn between the political activism his friends embrace and his own growing interest in artistic expression. On a trip to Italy with a group of agitprop filmmakers, he is being told that he can borrow the camera, with strings attached, because "we don't do fiction."

In Something In The Air, people fight over the necessity of "revolutionary syntax" for revolutionary films. Gilles is on his way to becoming a filmmaker. At Pinewood Studios outside of London, he works on the set of a Roger Cormanesque monster movie, where a giant green lizard head attacks Nazis and a woman in a fur bikini on a submarine. What happened to Laure, the muse?

It's like throwing Gasoline on a fire.

Reviewed on: 27 Sep 2012
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An 18-year-old man reacts to the social changes of late 1960s Europe.
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Director: Olivier Assayas

Writer: Olivier Assayas

Starring: Lola Créton, Dolores Chaplin, India Menuez, Carole Combes, Clement Metayer, Victoria Ley, Felix Armand, Nathanjohn Carter, Mathias Renou, Nick Donald, Félix de Givry

Year: 2012

Runtime: 122 minutes

Country: France


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