'Something in the Air' ('Apres Mai') is a French film written and directed by Oliver Assayas. It is set just after the turbulent events in France in May 1968 i.e. the student protests and a widespread disgust of the European Governments and their involvement in the Vietnam War. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the focus is on the young people and their activities. These activities involve the creation of pamphlets, attendance of quite radical youth activist groups espousing a form of Communism that is a million miles from the watered down rhetoric regurgitated by the drum beating Socialists today hanging onto the coattails of the unions. They also just have fun together. This fun ranges from harmless, the creation of art to the rather more risky, promiscuous sex, acts of violent protest including spraying graffiti on the school walls/windows featuring political slogans and artwork and throwing things at security. Drugs are also a prominent feature of the youth culture depicted in the film.
The film flows like a stream of vignettes. The characters travel about, joining other groups. The nature of subversive film is explored. Questions arise exploring whether revolutionary films should be created using a 'revolutionary syntax'. Traditionally, this has been the case, consider Eisenstein's films with their 'montage of collision' (stark juxtapositions of lines, shapes and images forced against each other). Revolutionary films by their nature do seem to be altered by their material. There are main characters in this film but they serve as symbols of a greater whole. Their triumphs and mistakes are the triumphs and mistakes of a generation.
One sequence which will stick with me for some time to come involves a girl telling her boyfriend that she is off to have an abortion. He asks if she needs company. When she refuses, he suggests a couple of paintings she can see at a gallery once she has left the clinic. You do not see the abortion but you do see the girl visiting the paintings of a group of men and women respectively. She literally and figuratively stuck in the middle of the two paintings, which are on adjacent walls. Her face, a canvas of suffering after her abortion.
'Something in the Air' is a subtle and delicate exploration of lost innocence. You see these characters develop and change as their politics become more subdued with age. The soundtrack also surprises with its use of songs by Nick Drake and Tangerine Dream rather than the tendency of most modern directors to use the now clichéd handful of songs to evoke the Sixties and early Seventies. The Moody Blues' 'Knights In White Satin', Procul Harem's 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' and pretty much anything by Donovan being the usual directorial choices. It is a film I wholeheartedly recommend.
To open up a dialogue with you gentle reader, is it just me who feels that the United Kingdom has never really had the political activism of other European countries? The Teenagers and youth of today are more interested in binge drinking and beginning each sentence with the word, 'Like' than exploring the subtleties of political change. The terrible riots were not about retribution for a perceived wrong or act of atrocity. They seemed to be more indicative of the actions of a group of Lemmings concerned slightly more with the latest trainers and mobile phones and appearing hard in front of your mates than metaphorically holding up a mirror to society and screaming aloud, 'society is going wrong'.
Sadly, there is nothing in the air today, bar the smell of testosterone, aftershave and the smell of Greggs' sausage rolls.
Barry Watt - 27th May 2013