FilmJuice have my review of Olivier Assayas’s 70s drama Something in the Air.
Much like Assayas’s near-universally acclaimed Carlos the Jackal, Something in the Air is set in the aftermath of the 1960s just as that much-overstated sense of solidarity and hopefulness was beginning to collapse into the selfishness, divisiveness and cynicism that would later herald the rise of Thatcherism and Reaganism. The film follows a group of French teenagers as they graduate from High school in 1971 and head out into Europe for a summer of self-discovery. However, despite the teenagers being incredibly passionate about their politics and the need to change the world, most of their decisions have little if anything to do with the tomes of political theory they dutifully read and quote:
Despite functioning at an incredibly high level or intellectual and political engagement, Gilles and friends drift from one doomed relationship to another whilst either embracing or rejecting the opportunities that come their way. One of them is dragged into the orbit of a bunch of aspiring terrorists while another joins a commune only to find herself doing all the washing, cleaning and shopping for a bunch of men who are anything but radical in their attitudes to women. Indeed, while some critics have made a lot of the similarities between Something in the Air and Assayas’s earlier film of ill-fated teen revolt Cold Water, a much better point of comparison would be a film like Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused as while Assayas’ teens may be living the revolutionary life in a series of beautiful European locations, the decisions they make are ultimately no different to those of Linklater’s suburban Texans.
This suggestion that radical politics are necessarily an affectation that do little aside from lock you into various social networks is very similar to the point Assayas makes by de-politicising the actions of Carlos the Jackal. From my review of Carlos:
By refusing to place Carlos’s actions in any kind of context, Assayas beautifully foreshortens them, reducing them from political actions to social gestures. Indeed, when Carlos and his gang storm the OPEC meeting, it is immediately clear that they have a good deal more in common with the politicians and bureaucrats than they do with ordinary people. Carlos is able to discuss his intentions quite calmly with the various politicians while their civilian underlings quake with uncontrollable terror. The politicians and police know who Carlos is. He knows who they are. Everyone knows the stakes. Everyone knows the risks. It is almost as though they are all friends.
The film is beautifully made and while it is not exactly one of Assayas’s great works, it does do a good job of raising questions about the 1960s at a time when the toxic exit strategy of that particular generation is becoming obvious to all.