Page 15




The politics of art

Something in the Air among Olivier Assayas' best, most personal films

Revolutionary road


ollowing its young protago- and, at times, handmade explonist through tear gas-streaked sives. Assayas grew up in the street demonstrations and acts aftermath of '68, was forced to of politicized vandalism; through contend with its legacy, discover awkward trysts made more com- a meaningful identity in its wake. plicated, or perhaps less compli- But Something in the Air is no cated, or maybe nostalgia trip— just different- Fri, Aug 16 – Wed, Aug 21 there's nothcomplicated by Directed by Olivier Assayas ing sentimental then-current ar- Metro Cinema at the Garneau about the camguments against  era's gaze, no romantic posartificial grand sessiveness; single moment through struggles with an emerg- of awakening. In fact, one of the ing sense of artistic vocation and things I found most seductive a political self-actualization that about the film is its plot's lack of deemed artistic expression itself emphasis. Something in the Air as inherently petit bourgeois; maintains a steady middle-disthrough travels, happenings and tance, invested in every moment jobs, Something in the Air, Olivier and gesture, offering an immerAssayas' most fluid and explic- sive experience, yet it is resolutely itly personal film—and one of his non-partisan, kitsch-free, and imvery best—traces a busy youth- mune to fetishizing ephemera. A trajectory through a series of sort of belated sequel to Assayas' gorgeously composed sequences, equally autobiographical 1994 one following the next, without film Cold Water—and in many reimposing needless connective gards, a response to Robert Brestissue. Memories waft, in league son's 1977 masterpiece Le diable with the weightless substance probablement—it seems driven of the title. A defining cinematic by enduring questions about how testament to LP Hartley's famous to balance the personal and poline about the past being a foreign litical, questions especially applicountry, every moment of Some- cable to a still-forming essential thing in the Air feels vivid and self. tangible yet so specific and richly "If you were involved in the detailed as to be utterly trans- hopes and ideas of that time," Asporting. sayas explained as we discussed The film's original French title the film during last year's Toronto is Après mai, the May in question International Film Festival, "nothbeing that of 1968, when protests ing was acceptable if it did not and strikes shook Paris, where in- have a direct relationship with stead of a summer of love they the coming revolution. Which was got a summer of lobbing bricks not a question mark, it was not a

dream. It was a fact. The revolution was going to happen—so what are you going to do for it? You were not making art for the revolution. Art was about individualism, which was anathema to the varied Marxist politics of the time. I was 15 in 1970. It was extremely difficult to find your way, to harness the available ideas. Because you were living in the wake of events that you couldn't fully grasp." Gilles (Clément Métayer), Assayas' analogue, his shaggy hair obscuring a lean face that still bears a boyishness, is involved in a number of ostensibly revolutionary activities. But he is also, as was Assayas, a budding painter, clearly talented yet still finding a strategy or form or subject that he can make peace with. He has two lovers, one (Carole Combes) with a more drifting, druggy nature, the other (Lola Créton) more lucid and ultimately more influential on Gilles' long-term path—she joins a Marxist filmmaking collective. We first see Gilles doing figurative work, later we see him doing abstract work and then later still some combination of the two. A key moment in the film depicts a debate regarding whether or not radical content requires radical form. Assayas' own approach to cinematic form has been both promiscuous and precise, more radical in works like Irma Vep (1996) and Demonlover (2002), more outwardly con-

ventional in the likes of Summer Hours (2008) and Carlos (2010). "Practising an art is a drug," Assayas says. "And I had that addiction. Art dragged me into some imaginary world, and in some ways this world saved me from the dead ends of the '70s ideologies. I did not go all the way in terms of politics, or mysticism or drugs, because I wanted to go all the way in terms of my art, whatever it was, and it was extremely naïve at the time. Something in the Air is similar to Irma Vep in that I'm trying to show the conflicting theories of what art is about. It's a way to express how when you were taken into the turmoil of those years you defined yourself in terms of those options. Representing nature, representing mankind, representing the world as it is was not inherently petit bourgeois. Maybe these elements have something to do with the very nature of cinema. I ended up coming up with my own answers, but those were the questions. And they do stay with me. Whatever I'm doing I try to define it by answering all of those questions." Something in the Air closes in a milieu that has almost nothing to do with anything that precedes it. Gilles leaves France for employment at London's Shepperton Studios—as did Assayas—working on a ridiculous-looking movie involving Nazis and goofy monsters. After spending so much time watching Gilles move through

VUEWEEKLY AUG 15 – AUG 21, 2013

situations guided by convictions whose implications are meant to involve the entire world's poor and working-classes, ending the film with our hero working on something so comically insignificant feels audacious. But it is a way of lifting off, of imagining the future in the amusing banality of a new present. Whether or not we watch this sequence with the knowledge that the character is modeled after the film's author, we know that Gilles will likely move on to live an interesting life. "He works in this movie factory, making a film from another era," Assayas says with a laugh. "Which was my experience, actually. I worked similar jobs on similar films at the time. But Gilles also sells the free press in front of the consulates and he watches experimental films. He witnesses the resurrection of Laure in an experimental film. And all of a sudden he understands what art is about, what cinema is about. Cinema is about resurrection. Cinema is about dealing with your own ghosts and bringing them to life. Cinema can explore your subconscious and your memories, but mostly it allows what is lost to come back. This is really where the path starts for Gilles. Finally, he has arrived at the point where he understands why he wants to make films. And to me it's a way of making sense of his whole journey." JOSEF BRAUN



930: Fringe to Fringe  

Touring festival artists find camaraderie on the road

930: Fringe to Fringe  

Touring festival artists find camaraderie on the road