Back in the chaotic times of the late ’60s and ’70s, student riots erupted throughout Paris, not unlike college campuses in America. Young idealists screaming for parity banded together to fight the government, angry cops and even angrier parents. For a pack of young communist comrades, school was over; it was time to start a revolution.
Part of Something in the Air’s charm is that director Olivier Assayas looks at this tumultuous time with a sense of understanding and empathy. Viewers are supposed to enjoy this ambitious anarchy just as much as the group of friends do. (Of course, as older and possibly disillusioned grownups, many viewers will also suspect the students have some hard lessons to learn.)
There’s Gilles (Clement Metayer), the artistic shaggy-haired boy one expects to meet at an anarchist potluck. The off-and-on again girlfriend subplot that accompanies the character isn’t as memorable as his interest in the young socialist underground group in high school. There, he meets Christine (Lola Creton), a budding filmmaker who’s even more passionate than he is about making pamphlets and defacing property. Like the rest of their friends, Gilles and Christine’s relationship is focused on the movement, and after a series of incidents drive the kids to different corners of the continent, each friendship fades away into the recesses of memory. Gilles settles in, looking to hone his artistic pursuits while Christine becomes ever more distant from the movement that once stirred her passion. Those are bitter moments of reality: waning friendships and dying ideologies are the most soulful moments of the movie, but they aren’t meant to sting forever. C’est la vie.
Cinematically, Something in the Air feels like an older picture-colors are slightly subdued to add age. The clothing, the hair, the attitudes help create a believable world for which the characters to play in, and it’s very much centered the student’s worlds: parents and school hardly factor in their plans. It is easy to assume that Gilles is Assayas’ stand-in, as he is the one character privileged or cursed enough to have the camera document his triumphs and set-backs the most. Despite its tendency to feel self-absorbed, Something in the Air has a few subtle messages about passing fads, growing up and radicalism. The kids leave behind the revolution after only a few years, and Assayas neither condemns nor condones them for it. (Perhaps it is a peace that he has reached himself.)
Watching the on-screen student riots brought back memories of my own time marching in the streets, photographing the events as they unfurled. I wonder how many former Occupiers will look back romantically at the tent cities and communal kitchens. How many of them will make a loving ode to the time, as Assayas has done? It’s hard to say. The Occupy movement is still far too recent (and still somewhat underway) to be processed and translated into fact-infused fiction. Nonetheless, if one is looking for an example of the type of films that may one day be made, inspired from these most recent experiences, Something in the Air is a good place to start.
Director: Olivier Assayas
Writer: Olivier Assayas
Stars: Clément Métayer, Lola Créton, Felix Armand
Release Date: May 3, 2013