Something in the Air
Directed by Olivier Assayas
In the miniseries Carlos (2010), director Assayas captured the descent of the post-May '68 European Left by following his eponymous terrorist-mastermind into hell, charting with fascination and pity the revolution’s Faustian bargain with mercenary violence. Assayas's latest can be seen as an unofficial companion piece to Carlos (the new film’s original title: After May), but the tenor this time is decidedly purgatorial, the political radicalism simmering to a disillusioned cool amid the hesitations of teenage confusion.
In this, Something also shares much with Assayas’s Cold Water (1994), another elegiac counterculture reverie from which the director now recycles the names of his two leads: Gilles (Clément Métayer), a high school anarchist and burgeoning painter, and Christine (Lola Créton), a like-minded classmate with filmmaking aspirations. Both partake in extracurricular activities typical of early-70s French youth—bloody confrontations with the police, underground newspaper hawking, agit-prop vandalism—all in service to a fringe-yet-well-organized Leftist organization.
While laying low in Italy—after a potentially identity-exposing assault on school security—Gilles and Christine’s world at once broadens and rots; drugs, new-age mysticism, unwanted pregnancies, and work for apolitical or else out-and-out establishment employers (these bourgeois kids never fully renounce their silver spoons) dilute a once-steadfast commitment to The Cause. It’s also during the trip abroad that the film divides its attention, giving significant screen time to peripheral characters—an American diplomat’s daughter and student of “sacred dance”; Gilles’s ex, an eventual victim of jet-set decadence—that nonetheless remain narrative ornaments. A vague romanticism and even vaguer moralism results.
And though Something is, per Assayas, thoroughly and often unconventionally sublime in its construction—the naturally muted blues and greens at which DP Eric Gautier arrives are as anti-sepia-tone-nostalgic as the soundtrack’s strange, unsettling use of Syd Barrett and Soft Machine—much of its beauty feels self-derivative: the “sinuous tracking shot through a grand, conflagrating party,” for instance, was done in Cold Water to far greater emotional effect. That’s because that film’s beautiful young drifters were kept at the center of the story; here, the initial focus on Gilles and Christine becomes fuzzy—and so too does the movie's political and moral resonance.
Opens May 3