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Après mai (Something in the Air) by Olivier Assayas

May 19, 2013

assayas

Après mai – After May – May 1968 of course, the social unrest didn’t end there, three years later it was still a time of difficult choices for French kids going into adulthood: what was the right thing to do? pursue personal goals or immolating them on the altar of the revolt? 1971 was the year when Olivier Assayas himself had to make his choice, the French director had already set one of his previous film during the years of his youth but while in L’eau froide (Cold Water, 1994) the setting was incidental, Après mai puts the revolutionary setting at the center of the action; in a sense this is a period piece and from this point of view the film is a total success: the look and feel of the Seventies are here and this is only one of the many showstoppers. When I say showstopper I mean it in the literal sense: the film is such a marvel on every technical feature that while watching it I often had the highly unusual desire to stop the screening to re-watch a cut or a scene. The film is effective not only from a strictly technical outlook, this technical bravura creates powerful images and emotional scenes who enhance the movie as a whole, this is true for physical scenes – the police chasing the students along the streets of Paris – and the ambiance ones too, juts like the scene set in an Italian piazza where revolutionary students are watching and discussing a film.

Assayas is a well-known master and as it happens with every director enjoying a similar recognition well-known actors are ready and willing to work with him, but a film like this one – where all the leads are teenagers – needs young faces, so Assayas has made the bold choice – unknown faces don’t lure viewers – to use non-professional actors (with the exception of Lola Créton and India Menuez); it is interesting to note what Assayas has declared about using non-professionals: he has used a lot of tracking shots because such actors are more at ease working this way, since they lack the cinematic mind of the professional actor, who is naturally able to understand every single scene in the context of the whole movie (Assayas interviewed in Positif #621). Putting aside all the good things I have seen in this film, in this autobiographical film, there is a cogent question: how is this story relevant to us spectators? how it is not just a reverie of youth by a director approaching his 60th birthday? Thinking of the Indignados/Occupy movements it’s easy to see that the current youngest generation is the first in forty years to have to make tough choices, I doubt they might have much in common with Assayas’s generation but in the end every generation has to face the same choices when adulthood comes, Assayas doesn’t provide answers but illustrates the struggle.

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