Friday, April 26, 2013


Maybe I unfairly labeled Something In The Air as "meh" in my end of the year wrap-up. It’s a pretty good film. It’s just that ever since Demonlover & Boarding Gate I hoped Assayas would continue down that path of unique, strange, sexy, bat shit crazy espionage films he pulled off so well. His more personal/tame films like Late August Early September & Summer Hours never fully hit me right away. They're cool to watch on a Sunday afternoon at first then their greatness finally creeps up on me months (or years) later. I remember feeling somewhere in between disappointed & "meh" after watching Something In The Air @ TIFF which bothered me because Assayas is, in my opinion, one of the top 4 directors working right now (Haneke, Denis & Mike Leigh being the other three). I always expect excellence from him and Something In The Air was the third film of his in a row that I initially shrugged my shoulders at once the credits rolled (I've since come around with Summer Hours, but I have yet to fully see what all the hype is about Carlos outside it being really long). But now that Something In The Air is set to be released in U.S. theaters soon, is featured on the cover of the latest Film Comment and has recently come up in conversation a couple of times with Chris Funderberg of the Pink Smoke, I've started to rethink my stance on Olivier Assayas' semi-autobiographical film.

There's something about modern films set in the late 60's & 70's (Dazed & Confused, Almost Famous, the first half of Boogie Nights, parts of Forrest Gump, etc) that sometimes rubs me the wrong way (this is a personal problem, not yours, but I'd still like to share it with you). There’s this unspoken vibe they give off almost like bragging as if to say; back in the day we had stuff like vinyl & and GOOD music, revolution, the black panthers & the Vietnam War. We smoked weed & dropped acid but we were still productive and made a difference. This is how it was in our time. Sometimes I watch these movies and I just wanna say; get over yourself. Something In The Air has a hint of that stuff but not like the afformentioned films.

Maybe I'm so much in to being an 80's baby and have had my limit of older Generations talking down to me about how I don't know anything simply because I'm younger makes me feel kinda "blah" about their era. The nostalgia in the Something In The Air is a bit heavy at times. Like, it almost feels TOO "70's". Plus I don't relate too (and don't really wanna relate too) things like hippies, pseudo militants or sitting around a bonfire smoking weed talking about revolution, philosophy & change or other annoying things that makes me role my eyes. Something In The Air is full of that stuff. Don't get me wrong, I've come around to liking this but I can never LOVE it like I do Demonlover.

In Something In The Air Assayas gives us a glimpse in to his life as a teenager, how he eventually got in to film, the social change that was going on in Europe and the revolution that the air. The young Bressonian characters that the film focuses on (who are loosely based on real people from Assayas' past) have some kind of drive & determination to follow their passions, but at the same time they also also come off as apathetic, almost blank and blahzay about life as they lay around looking pretty and getting high.

The 400 Blows (Truffaut)
I don’t know what it is about French & Belgian cinema but ever since The 400 Blows it almost seems like there's an unofficial requirement for all prominent French filmmakers to make at least one coming of age tale (sometimes semi-autobiographical) thats either politically and/or socially charged or about some kind of sexual discovery (Rosetta, The Promise, US Go Home, The Devil Probably, Small Change, Murmur Of The Heart, Fat Girl, Water Lilies, tomboy, The Boy With A Bike, A Hair Under Roses, Cold Water, Small Change, Boy Meets Girl, etc) and Something In The Air fits right in with that group of films. Although there are quite a few exceptional coming of age stories from America, whenever something is politically or socially fueled it’s so obvious and in your face that it sometimes turns me off. Great European coming of age stories set during a turbulent or historic time tend to hint at or casually mention important political events rather than shove stuff down your throat. The backdrop of Something In The Air are the protests that took place in May '68 in France and the after-affect it had on young leftists in the early 70's but Assayas doesn’t constantly reference it (at least not directly to my knowledge) over & over again. He focuses more on the main character "Gilles" (who essentially represents Assayas as a teen) and his group of young left-wing friends and their experiences after high school (or whatever Parisians call high school). They travel the world, experiment with drugs, take part in student protests & revolutions, fall in & out of love with each other and start to discover their paths in life as filmmakers, painters, writers & dancers.

Gilles/Assayas' entry in to filmmaking starts through painting & sketching, then on to visual arts (controlling those trippy slide shows in the background while rock bands perform). He then gets a job in television (thanks to his father) which eventually leads to a job in the film industry where he works his way up from the bottom as an assistant. And Gilles isn't the only character in the film who discovers a love for filmmaking. One of Gilles' love interests; Christine (played by Lola Creton) goes on to become a political filmmaker as well.

In the March/April edition of Film Comment, Olivier Assayas references Bresson's The Devil Probably as an influence which makes perfect sense when/if you get around to watching Something In The Air. It’s almost like the Gilles character was plucked from the background of The Devil Probably and placed in Assayas' film with his long shaggy hair and borderline monotone/emotionless delivery. The beauty of Something In The Air beyond the political & coming of age stuff is that it helped me realize how influential of a film The Devil Probably is. I think it’s almost on the same level as The 400 Blows or Breathless. Due to its influence on two of my personal favorite films (Taxi Driver & Stranger Than Paradise) I've been a bit fixated on Bresson's Picketpocket or even L'Argent (that film also influenced stuff I love like Henry Fool & Shadows In Paradise). But The Devil Probably's influence in French cinema just hit me all at once recently. Look at some of the recent entries on Pinnland Empire (along with older stuff like 5 Questions with Bertrand Bonello & The Cinema Of Michael Haneke). So many things branch off of it. Both Claire Denis (sorry, don’t care if you're sick reading that name on here) & Humbert Balsan (the unofficial subject of The Father Of My Children) both had background roles in the film when they were young and up & coming in the movie business. Bertrand Bonello had the actors in The Pornographer study The Devil Probably (and you can still see its influence on Bonello's later work like The House Of Tolerance & Tiresia) and its influence on Haneke's earlier films goes without saying.

The Devil Probably (Bresson)
I guess I've learned now to give Assayas' films time resonate and grow on me before judging them. I genuinely have the urge to see Something In The Air again whereas in Toronto I was a bit indifferent. If you enjoyed his recent work then chances are you'll enjoy this. With Something In The Air Olivier Assayas uses the political elements from Carlos along with the "lighter" qualities of Summer Hours. Even though Carlos came first, Something In The Air feels connected to it (I imagine Gilles in his mid-twenties following Carlos The Jackal on the news). Globalization has been a common theme in Assayas' work since Demonlover. He makes these multinational/multilingual casts and his recent films are set in multiple countries (Paris, London & Rome)

For those of you not too familiar with all the films I've mentioned, imagine an altered French version of Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous (I usually make my own awesome movie comparisons but I gotta give credit to John Cribbs, the other half of the pink smoke, for the Almost Famous Comparison).


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