SOMETHING IN THE AIR written and directed by Olivier Assayas, with Clément Métayer, Lola Créton, Felix Armand and Carole Combes. A Mongrel Media release. 117 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (May 24). For venues and times, see listings.
Olivier Assayas is in a reflective mood.
His new film, Something In The Air, is a semi-autobiographical drama about French students who were just a little too young to participate in the uprisings of May 1968 but want to claim some revolutionary cred for themselves anyway. Assayas's surrogate in the film is Gilles (Clément Métayer), whose interest in underground filmmaking makes him both observer and chronicler of his little group of agitators.
On an impromptu Toronto press day thanks to a fortuitous financing meeting, I ask Assayas if he was tempted to romanticize or idealize his experiences for the screen.
"Actually, I fought against that," he says. "I tried to erase a lot of what was sentimental in the film, in terms of the relationships. Which would be at the forefront, normally, of that kind of movie. You know, people are familiar with those emotions; you've seen that a million times. So I thought, ‘Let's push the film in the direction of painting a broader picture of the emotions of a generation. I'm using individuals, but I don't want to make some kind of individual, romanticized autobiography.'
"I pushed it in the direction of collectivist history, which can't be sentimental."
The bleaker, more confrontational aesthetic of Something In The Air - with disillusionment and futility stalking the characters at every turn - is Assayas's way of ripping off the rose-coloured filters employed in many coming-of-age movies.
"You do something that has to do with your memory and your emotion," he says. "You fantasize your own life and you fantasize the setting. I believe in reality, so I'm trying to be as close as I can to it. I believe that when you are making a movie that has to do with describing the past, you owe it to your audience to be accurate. Because this is how it will stay with them."
He's speaking of emotional accuracy, but also practical attention to detail; the movie is particularly scrupulous about replicating the specifics of France and Italy (and briefly England) in the mid-70s.
"People trust cinema, they trust images," he says. "So you have some kind of duty to not alter the texture of the times too much. While making Carlos, I learned how cinema can have similar morals as writing modern history. So when I'm doing a movie like Something In The Air, part of it has to do with getting it right for the record. At the same time, I'm not just completely naive. I know that it's also a poetic evocation of my [own] coming of age."