Something In The Air

REVIEW BY Willard Manus

Olivier Assayas, the French director of 2010's unforgettablemini-series, Carlos, has returned to form with SOMETHING IN THEAIR, a docudrama about the counter-cultural wars of the 1970s. The film recreates that period with verve and power, capturing thecomplex battles that were being fought between right and left, youth and middleage, police and students, Maoists and anarchists. Drugs, music, alcohol and sex were very much a part of theferment, as were experimentation, rebellion and feminism. Political as most of the participants were, there were also hippies and flower-children in their midst, utopian souls whoturned their back on struggle and hitchiked to India and Nepalinstead, in search of gurus, enlightenment and cheap hashish. SOMETHING IN THE AIR opens in 1971 with a demonstration at aParisian high school on behalf of imprisoned leftist leaders. Withmilitary planning and precision, the youthful leaders of theuprising, Gilles (Clement Metayer), Alain (Felix Armand),Laure (Carole Combes) and Christine (Lola Creton), sneak into theschool at night to spray graffiti and scatter handbills. Assayashighlights the action (which soon turns violent) with his fluidand distinctive camera work.

SOMETHING IN THE AIR focuses mostly on Gilles and Alain asthey move deeper into the 70s, changing all the while. Theirextreme radicalism begins to lose force, thanks to revelationsabout their one-time hero Chairman Mao and his brutal policies. Police repression and the indiscriminate use of drugsalso take their toll.

Assayas' canvas is large, also his cast of characters. Hisstory is packed with incidence, action, conflict, movement. Thereis only the thinnest of through-lines: Gilles and Alain head toart school to learn how to paint and draw; then, as they grow olderand more mature, they find well-paying work in advertising andtelevision, struggling all the while to maintain their idealism,their hope for a fairer and freer society.

SOMETHING IN THE AIR is a difficult film to sum up; it is too dense and complex for that. Suffice to say, though, that itbrings the 70s to life in unforgettable fashion. (Two hours long, in French with English sub-titles)