SCORE: 9.1 / 10
“Film is a medium of the present. It happens on screen.” – Tim Orr
To make a film is to render the present past, and to watch a film is to render the past present.
The films of Olivier Assayas (“Summer Hours,” “Carlos”) are often explicitly about this temporal unease, especially his post-modern masterpiece “Irma Vep,” in which a director named Vidal (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, the iconic face of the French New Wave) struggles to find a relevant way to remake Louis Feuillade’s 1915-1916 serial, “Les Vampires.” In what Assayas has publicly considered to be a happy ending, Vidal deconstructs his own footage, superimposing the rough cut of his remake with a barrage of geometric doodles and ear-piercing feedback. Simultaneously mediated into oblivion and raw with personal struggle, Vidal’s work implicitly accepts that the cinema of the present is informed by the past, but not owned by it.
The magnificent “Something in the Air” is Assayas’ most directly autobiographical film to date, and it’s no surprise to see that his own coming-of-age hinged upon an elusive nowness, or that he had to effectively recast himself as Vidal in order to process his past.
The film begins with a floppy and teenager named Gilles (Clément Métayer as Assaya’s blank but perceptive proxy) running around the February 9, 1971 demonstration, in which a branch of French maoists were teargassed by the Parisian police force. Originally titled “Après Mai” (or “After May”), “Something in the Air” rages with the orphaned energy that lingered in the aftermath of the May ’68 revolution, introducing us to the kids who were there to devour the crumbs of the counterculture. Gilles’ friends – the most memorable of whom is played by Lola Créton, perhaps the most compulsively watchable ingenue in all contemporary cinema – represent a generation of agitated adolescents so idealistic and impossibly beautiful that their physical presence alone is enough to suggest that this is a personal story told through a political lens, and not the other way around. Like a fire with nothing to burn, they have all the zeal in the world and no cause into which they might channel it.