Olivier Assayas’s gorgeous, freewheeling, semi-autobiographical Something in the Air is an ode to both youth’s universal qualities and the specifics of Assayas’s youth in particular. The picture opens in the suburbs just outside Paris in 1971, among a group of teenage students still energized by the explosive student and worker protests of May 1968.
The movie’s better and more descriptive French title is Après mai (“After May”): These kids came along too late for the most exciting part of the revolution but have no way of knowing it. They’re still in the moment, throwing Molotov cocktails in the direction of a better future. Our first glimpse of Laure (Carol Combes), the sort-of girlfriend of the lead, Gilles (Clément Métayer), is of her tripping down a verdant country road in a gauzy granny dress and flat, delicate sandals; it’s less like a standard movie shot than a memory that has dissolved over time only to reassemble itself more vivid and beautiful than ever.
The whole movie feels that way. Shot by Assayas’s frequent collaborator Eric Gautier, it unfolds in a place and time that’s both real and unreal, corporeal and ghostly. Assayas is attuned to the convictions that seize young people and the half-articulated dreams that slip out of their grasp, and he tells his story in visuals and music more than in dialogue.
Something in the Air is all about drifting—its story doesn’t advance so much as glide from here to there, from Paris to Italy, from green-gray city streets to yellow-green country fields.
May 10-16, 2013