Something in the Air
Olivier Assayas returns with bittersweet portrait of countercultural French 70's youth
French writer-director Olivier Assayas follows up his epic chronicle of legendary terrorist Carlos the Jackal with this bittersweet portrait of countercultural youth in early 70s France. ‘Diffusely autobiographical’ is how the filmmaker has described this cinematic roman a clef, whose protagonist is the teenaged alter-ego figure of Gilles (Clément Métayer), an aspiring artist attending a lycée outside Paris. He is in love with the bohemian twentysomething Laure (Carole Combes), but he and fellow student militants decide to flee to Italy for the summer, after a security guard is badly injured in an incident involving a Molotov cocktail. Drawing romantically closer to one of his politically committed female colleagues Christine (Lola Créton), Gilles has to choose between his own creative ambitions and the Leftist cause.
It’s precisely because this coming-of-age story is so specific in its depiction of the era’s countercultural artifacts - whether they are underground magazines and newspapers, intricately designed record sleeves or copies of prized books - and to the disparate factions within leftwing politics, that it becomes such a credible portrait of a generation, who genuinely believed in the possibility of an imminent revolution. Assayas ensures that nostalgia and cynicism are kept at bay, keeping us aware of the doubts and insecurities of youthful characters. ‘I live in my fantasies’, Gilles admits. ‘When reality knocks on the door, I don’t open it.’ Relying on a cast of mainly non-professional actors, Something in the Air has a dreamy feel to the way it’s shot and edited, conveying the sense that we are experiencing its creator’s subjective memories. And there’s a superb use of a psychedelic folk rock soundtrack, in which songs from the likes of Syd Barrett, Captain Beefheart and Kevin Ayers are heard in their entirety to memorable effect.
Limited release from Fri 24 May