Oliver Assaya‘s “Something In The Air” blew me away.
The film centers around a few late teen/young adults in post 1968 (starting in 1971) France. I say post-1968 because the political stage set by that period of unrest serves as the backdrop for the film. The main characters are introduced as radical dissidents in high school, operating and executing various acts of civil disobedience. As the film continues, they are forced to leave France, and their lives progress, sometimes intersecting, sometimes not.
The scope of the film’s themes is remarkable. A primary theme I encountered was the relationship between radical politics and art. The main character, Gilles, grows from a staunch to a reluctant member of the radical society and, in a parallel, grows from an amateur painter to one driven by it. The portrayals of the artists in the film versus those more dedicated to their politics capture the basic identity question of the film – when does one know that this is what one needs to do? When is one being true to oneself, versus to society? The question of the comparison between individualism and socialism (when one does something solely for oneself, or for the good of society) and the artist’s relation thereof is still a worthwhile topic in today’s society.
The political discussion in the film is also quite relevant today. Despite having bits of nostalgia for an era passed (what a great music selection!), the topics of radicalism and a sense of action feeling needed by the young is more than present today, what with the Occupy movement, the Arab Spring, the upheaval and crises in Spain… The backdrop is quite contemporary despite being forty years ago. However, politics are never pushed in this film. They are discussed as the characters’ status quos, and are discussed frankly through various viewpoints, occasionally (such as the debate amongst the film crew) with even some light tongue-in-cheek criticism. But the frank way of portrayal also serves as a calm way of introducing such ideals.
Cinematically, the film is a masterpiece. The mise-en-scène is cared for in every shot, and the use of the crane is novel. We may start a scene with an extreme close-up on someone’s face, and they may do some action for some time and then move into another place. Suddenly we will be lifted to a vast wide shot of the scenery in the background, perfectly in line with the character’s thoughts or psychological/emotional status. Rather than quick cuts taking us from place to place in the film, the director, Oliver Assayas, seems to prefer to use a shoulder-rig to take us through the houses, solidifying our psychological places in the world.
And the characters are treated frankly, sympathetically, with subtle acting paving a way to their overall development which is never fully realized; rather, it is left open to the uncertain continuation of the lives of those who survived. Editing-wise, the film is constructed in a smooth, poetic way, with poetry interacting well with realism.
It is truly a must-see.
Post note: I will admit that I had some biases viewing this film, as I politically lean more towards this viewpoint (minus the violence) and the film had little bits of many things that greatly influenced me (Edward Gorey and Nick Drake in the same scene! Orwell’s collected essays on the table! Syd Barrett! Etc), as well as these themes which are important to me. However, I do not feel that this influenced my overall image of the film.
Something in the Air opens May 17th at Opera Plaza in San Francisco and Shattuck Theatres in Berkeley.