Monday, April 29, 2013

SOMETHING IN THE AIR: Olivier Assayas' buoyant look at post-'68 protest in France

It bubbles, it flows, it rarely stops moving, and it's full of youthful French passion for... well, all kinds of things from sex to politics to philosophy to protest to travel. With his new movie, SOMETHING IN THE AIR, critically acclaimed (and sometimes even popular) French filmmaker Olivier Assayas captures part of, maybe the heart of, the student rebellion that first hit France in 1968 and then exploded around Europe and America.

Assayas' film is set in the very early 1970s, when he himself was a teenager. Perhaps this is why (and about as well as I have seen it done) the filmmaker, shown at left, is able to capture the kind of shimmering spirit of that time in this film full of characters that appear, act, speak and connect, then disappear, only to (sometimes) appear again and reconnect. Or not. Something in the Air is full of near constant movement and incident but (as a compatriot of mine pointed out immedi-ately after the screening) almost zero "interiority." This lack was not a criticism of the film, either, as the kids we see and whose activities we follow are full of youthful zest and plenty of ideas -- most of them unformed. But they certainly feel things. And so they act, but for god's sake, don't ask them why. They'll figure that out later, maybe in a decade or two.
If they live that long.

Most of these kids, it appears, are scions of the French bourgeoisie, so protest, along with their next meal, comes pretty easily. This is not to say they are not committed. It's just that their commitment might change or move around a bit. Is it to the ideas of Lenin? Or Trotsky? Or simply to art? Or to each other? And how much, finally, does this even matter?

We don't necessarily learn the answers. Nor do the kids. But we're there, with them, as these questions crop up. Assayas begins his film in the middle of things, and he ends there, too. This will annoy viewers who insist on comfortable beginnings and some nice closure at the finale. Yet there is so much going on in this film, that events themselves render boredom impossible. Stylistically, the film is almost consistently pleasurable. And if you have even a lick of interest in or experience with protest, I think the movie will grab you where it hurts (where it thrills, too).

Many of the characters we see flit by too fast and remain surface-only to care much about, and this is perfectly all right somehow. The quintet who count most register strongly, and that's enough. These would include our hero, Gilles (played by Clément Métayer, above, right); his friend, Alain (Félix Armand) and his girl (India Salvor Menuez, below, with red hair); and our two heroines, Christine (played by Lola Créton, above, sleeping, and recently seen in Goodbye First Love and earlier in Bluebeard) and Laure (gorgeous newcomer Carole Combesshown at bottom).

Music is near-constant here and a lot of fun to hear, for the musical choices are indeed choice. Along the way, our little group is faced with its own choices: will it be art or commerce, painting or politics, commitment or forget it? Gee, maybe one can manage both. We bourgeoisie usually prefer it that way.

Something in the Air, from Sundance Selects and running 122 minutes, opens this Friday, May 3, in New York (at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and IFC Center) and in Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal Theater). The film will also be available come May 9 nationwide via Sundance Selects’ video-on-demand platform, available to over 50 million homes in all major markets.

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