Monday, April 29, 2013

Something in the Air: Nostalgia for What?

Ah yes, to be young and free from consequences.  It is 1971, three years after the 1968 demonstrations.  For a group of young radicals, life is fantasy world of activism and sexual hedonism.  Nobody really worries about who pays the bills in Olivier Assayas’s Something in the Air (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center.

Gilles and his New Left high school cronies are outraged when special French riot police break-up their riots, so they respond by rioting more.  When a Molotov cocktail seriously injures a campus security guard (who could’ve figured?), the radicals decided to lay low in Italy until things blow over.  They still debate the various merits of Trotskyism vs. anarchism, idling away their summer vacation in the Dolce Vita environment.

Everyone gets deeply worked up about injustice in general, but nobody seems to have many specifics.  Frankly, every teenager should have the opportunities Gilles’ TV producer father can provide.  Yet, Assayas presents these coddled middle class revolutionaries with no sense of irony.  Nor do they have strongly differentiated personalities.  They all just seem to drift through scenes, feeling things deeply.  Lola Créton is the notable exception portraying Gilles’s sometimes girlfriend Christine, as a sad, somewhat tragic figure, because she eventually grows up and tastes some of life’s disappointments.

Aside from Créton’s Christine, Something’s characters are a uniformly dull lot that leave no lasting impression.  However, the period details are great.  Production designer François-Renaud Labarthe’s team earns kudus for tracking down working mimeograph machine.  The soundtrack choices are also great, including songs that are era appropriate but far from overplayed, like Robin Williamson’s “Fare Thee Well, Sweet Mally” and the Incredible String Band’s “Air.”

Almost inadvertently, Something captures the shallow indulgence of the times.  Yet, it lacks both the drive and honesty of Assayas’s thematically related Carlos (which boldly depicts the realities of ideologically motivated terrorism).  The resulting net effect is a rather static viewing experience that just pokes along.  Again, it sounds cool, but never engages on an emotional or intellectual level.  A disappointment from a major filmmaker, Something in the Air opens this Friday (5/3) in New York at the IFC Center.