Profile: Olivier Assayas, director of Something in the Air
The writer-director specialises in period pieces that don't slide into nostalgia
The son of a screenwriter father and a painter mother, Assayas worked as a critic for Cahiers du Cinéma, before making his directorial debut in 1986 with Disorder. A writer-director with an impressive ability to work across diverse genres and styles, his most acclaimed works have included the love-letter to cinema Irma Vep, the intimate relationship drama Late August, Early September, and the epic portrait of a legendary 1970s terrorist Carlos.
What’s he up to now?
With Something in the Air, Assayas again returns to the 1970s for a semi-autobiographical portrait of countercultural adolescents, in which the protagonist Gilles (newcomer Clément Métayer) is an aspiring teenage artist caught up in Leftist student militancy.
Assayas on Something in the Air
‘I used autobiographical anecdotes and fragments of memories and quotations from books and music to recreate the ambience of the 1970s in Something in the Air. Gilles is the character closest to me, but it’s not just his story - it’s about the choices and options open to him and his friends, so it becomes a portrait of a generation.’
On filming history
‘I’m not a nostalgic person. Even when I make films set in the past like Carlos and Something in the Air, they are also about the present. And if Carlos was about the dark side of the 1970s, then Something in the Air is about the more utopian side, the hopes and dreams of teenagers.’
On choosing to be a filmmaker
‘I became a filmmaker rather than a painter, because I couldn’t bear the solitude of painting. I discovered there was something so powerful in what cinema brought me: I could represent real-life human beings and their emotions, and connect to a broader audience.’
On his career so far
’I always write my own film and I put everything into them. I’m not interested in being a confident filmmaker. With every film, I want to try new things, not sleepwalk my way through filming.’
The editor on all of Assayas’s films, Luc Barnier, died after the completion of Something in the Air.
Something in the Air is on limited release from Fri 24 May.