Something in the Air (2012)

Director:  Olivier Assayas
Cast:  Clément MétayerLola CrétonFelix Armand
Plot:  In the months after the heady weeks of May '68, a group of young Europeans search for a way to continue the revolution believed to be just beginning.

Genre:  Drama

Awards:  Won Best Screenplay and nominated for Golden Lion (Venice).
Runtime:  122min
Rating:  R21 for nudity and sexual images.

There is something in Eric Gautier's cinematography that evokes a sense of nostalgia, as if opening a time portal back to the late 1960s where political strife and artistic expression often conflate with real-world socio-economic issues rising from the misappropriation of the capitalist ideology. 

Writer-director Olivier Assayas returns to post-May 1968 Paris in Something in the Air, a free-spirited look at European, in particular French youths, who harboured the dreams and hopes of being part of revolutionary change to alter the status quo, some through the engagement with art, others through journalistic manifestos.

Assayas' film is by no means empathically political.  Instead it centers on the theme of memory, not simply the recollection of the past, but the reminiscing of times of great ambition and energy to sustain the revolutionary spirit, though this is often at the expense of romantic endeavours. 

Something in the Air uses the character Gilles (Clement Metayer) as the focal point in which this prism-memory of politics and art unfolds itself.  Gilles is an aspiring painter, but he occasionally partakes in revolutionary action like spraying graffiti onto the walls of his school in the dead of the night. 

The performances by the ensemble cast are uniformly good, though not particularly memorable.  What is most striking is Gautier's roving camerawork and Assayas' direction that can be best described as strong yet remarkably low-key.  The pair has collaborated on numerous occasions in films such as Irma Vep (1996), Clean (2004) and Summer Hours (2008). 

Here they recreate the look and feel of a time long gone, even as it remains in the memories of those who lived in that era, including Assayas himself, whose film is a loving homage to a period when there was ‘something in the air”, not a slight breeze, but a wind of change.  Where has that wind gone to?  Is it still in the air?  Does it need to be in the air? 

Something in the Air opens with young activists being physically assaulted by the brutal authorities in public (presumably recreating the May 1968 strikes), a powerful prologue that gives way to a romanticized perspective of a volatile period, which itself gives way to a muted feeling of loss and its memory.  This is one of Assayas’ better works and he has been duly rewarded with the Golden Osella for Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival.

Verdict:  Assayas' latest captures the dreams and hopes of revolutionary European youths post-May 1968 through an eye-opening prism-memory of politics and art. 

GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)

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