'Air' is a picture of '70s French counterculture

2013-06-13T00:00:00Z 'Air' is a picture of '70s French countercultureLinda Barnard Toronto Star Arizona Daily Star
June 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

In French director Olivier Assayas' semiautobiographical "Something in the Air," idealistic young artist Gilles (Clément Métayer) shows the young woman he is pining for his latest work. She sullenly picks her favorite, which he promptly burns.

No one but she will ever see it, he says morosely.

It's an action typical of the group of angst-ridden, privileged teens in this suburban Paris-set world of 1971, where memories of the 1968 strikes by students and industry are still fresh in the national consciousness.

Their ire with the establishment and revolutionary zeal punctuates daily life as high school winds down for the term and summer beckons.

But Gilles and his mates have no plans for seasonal jaunts; they're publishing tracts and selling radical newspapers at the school gates, meeting the like-minded in smoky rooms and making statements via spray paint and acts of civil disobedience.

But they're still teens and they face the moods, passions, raging hormones and unrequited love that torment the young. Sexy Laure (Carole Combes) has broken Gilles' heart. But here's pretty and politically similar Christine (compelling Lola Créton) who shares Gilles' zeal for provocative documentary filmmaking that tells the truth about workers' struggles and oppressed peoples.

After a nighttime graffiti raid nets a tragic result, the friends decide to go underground, after a fashion, with Gilles, Christine and classmate Alain (Felix Armand) heading to Italy to live in a communelike country house filled with artists and activists.

American interpretive dancer Leslie (India Menuez) pirouettes off with Alain's heart. She's a perfect symbol of the self-indulgent side of these spoiled teens who assume their lives are so special they can be lived without consequences.

Assayas doesn't try to make these youngsters appealing with his narrative, which won Best Screenplay at the 2012 Venice Film Festival. But he does make them look wonderful, clothed in the finest hippie rags - or nothing at all - draped with funky jewelry and cloaked in the smoke of endless cigarettes.

The soundtrack also speaks to that early '70s summer, including Assayas' favorite performers, with Syd Barrett, Captain Beefheart and Nick Drake among them.

One character's parents are busy touring with Soft Machine.

With all these elements in place, Assayas captures a season in the lives of a group that envisioned themselves as bearers of truth, often placing his camera above to shoot between green leaves that frame the actors below, as if a higher purpose was guiding their actions.

Ultimately, that's what the young men and women onscreen believed was the case, right up until the sounds of student revolution were drowned out by the cries of the real world.

Review

Something in the Air

** 1/2

• Unrated

• Director: Olivier Assayas.

• Cast: Clément Métayer, Carole Combes, Lola Créton, India Menuez and Felix Armand.

• Running time: 117 minutes.

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