Thursday, February 13, 2014

ENG 282 Week 5: Something in the Air (France: Olivier Assayas, 2012)

Archive of Resources for the Film

More films by Olivier Assayas:

Ebony Nava response

[1968 was a tumultuous year around the world. Just a few of the major events that took place in 1968 are as follows; the Vietnam War begins, teachers protest state education funding in the US, students protest for cheaper student meals in Brazil, Martin Luther King is assassinated in the US, The Tlatelolco massacre of protesters occurs in Mexico, The Troubles begin in Ireland between two groups of Irish ethnicities, and the Khmer Rouge which later is responsible for the Cambodian Genocide is formed in Cambodia.

More specifically in Paris France, political unrest was reaching a pinnacle in May of 1968 as student unrest at Sorbonne University snowballed into protests and riots with the communist party and high school student unions joining forces and calling for the resignation of the current president, De Gaulle, among other demands. The protests culminated in some 2/3’s of the entire workforce in France striking for two continuous weeks.]

Something in the Air, by French director Olivier Assayas (2012), is a film about several privileged “white” youth living in France, circa 1968. The film follows these youth through the end of their senior year in high school (May 1968) and the subsequent summer, focusing mainly on a young man named Gilles who has a passion for painting and an interest in film (Gilles character is also, apparently, a depiction of the director as a young man).

Unfortunately, despite being a well-made film (quite realistic clothing/grooming, and character representations for a film made in 2012), and likely a reasonably accurate representation of Gilles’ experiences as a young man, I was left wanting. Peppered throughout the film (including its background non-diegetic sound track) are intentional art references (film, music, etc.) that would have likely enriched the film – had I been a viewer old enough to catch on to the connotations that were implied.

Gilles’ group of friends is made up of affluent young people. There is no real concern as to where resources are coming from to fund the comings and goings of the youths as they travel across several European countries/across to the Americas, or, likewise, what they will do to sustain themselves in life. College of some sort is not a question of if, but when, and the “fight” or “revolution” is not so much for them as much as it is for “the workers.”

Sorely lacking in the film were many people of color (I counted two or three extras, out of hundreds, at least), maybe this is representative of the areas shown in the film at the time (1968), then again maybe not since there was an influx of immigration to France after WW2 in the 1950’s (granted, immigrants were probably poor and weren’t able to associate with the circles of people Gilles found himself a part of). Either way, there was no mention of the racial landscape of France at the time, which was odd as sexuality, gender roles, and generational conflict were all taken on in the film.

Regardless, the film does touch on the many changes that were going on during Gilles’ youth; globalization (the book Gilles was reading is deemed US political propaganda, the “map” artist), the shallowness of blockbusters (movies made for no reason other than money), even the sheer amount of experiences, decisions, and changes Gilles and his friends made in their transitional year of leaving high school, and thus, growing apart.

An important ingredient to the period of time Something in the Air features is the “attitude,” for lack of a better word, for whatever reason, that the youth possess that inspires them to resist the rules and establishments that had been previously set in place. Throughout the film there are clashes between the genders, clashes between generations, clashes between ideologies (all conflicts that continue to this day); the effects of their revolutionary actions/change/ideas were specifically mulled upon in the film when Gilles reads the following passage from a book, “When painters try to cast off representation, they do so by destroying painting and their survival as painters” to which his friend responds “we follow our own path, but it costs you, sometimes a lot. You can’t know.

Something in the Air is about transitions within transitions. The world, globally, in transition, the youth’s transitioning lives during this transitional time period, the youths’ transitioning opinions, ideas, outlooks, and feelings, Gilles’ artwork, and even the transition between 1968 and today (in the film, for example, reading is something everyone had in common).

None of the transitions appear to be taken on and fully examined; yet they are thoughtfully turned about and briefly mulled by Assayas, something that his younger “self” Gilles (not surprisingly) also tends to do in the film. Gilles seems to lament this tendency in the film when he says, like a true thinker, “I’m upset with myself. I live in my fantasies. When reality knocks, I don’t open.” Perhaps this trait still haunts Assayas. For what other reason would he build an entire scene up to the admission and then to a pensive close directly after?

Patrick Reynolds' response

I was a young boy just barely into the double digits in the late sixties, but I maintain a strong sense of the emotional sentiment of the time - due entirely to an older brother and sister who were both very liberal, artistic teenagers who completely embraced this counterculture so prevalent - More prevalent than I had even realized until viewing this film. Global in every sense of the word.

In my humble opinion, Oliver Assayas' depiction of this sentiment is spot on. The characters attitudes first reminded me of a famous line from another movie where a young rebel is ask: "What are you rebelling against Johnny" - (Johnny's reply) "Whata ya got? However, as Assayas continues to define the era, I was impressed as to how much change was truly needed, and how ripe the world was for this revolution. Albeit (as my Professor pointed out) mostly unsuccessful: But, perhaps a keen awareness of these issues can be seen as some degree of success...

While many of the characters display true moral conviction to their cause, some are portrayed as coldly thinking of what they do as more of a job or profession. Much in the same light that Abbey Hoffman (infamous 60s activist) came to see himself as a professional organizer.

I sensed that this realization was at least partially responsible for the main character "Gilles" becoming disillusioned or disconcerted with the movement. Masterfully brought to light in a progressive and subtle manner. My first awareness of this: Gilles apathetic response to a request for involvement in the burning of a car.

I think these thoughts coupled with his feelings regarding letting the two women he loves walk out of his life, are what he means when he confesses: "I live in a fantasy world. When true opportunity knocks, I don't answer" More and more he is turning towards his true calling, though not via medium he expected. Unlike the romantic life of a revolutionist, this is accurately depicted as the day in, day out rigors of learning a trade.

From a technical and artistic perspective, I am beyond impressed. The accuracy to which this era is portrayed is incredibly detailed. How the characters matured visibly was excellent. The use of folk and contemporary music, both diegetic and non-diegetic, solidified the experience for me.

There were two scenes that especially impressed me. One very simple, and the other very subtle.

The former: when Gilles is working as a "Gopher" at the production of a low grade Sci-Fi film. As he is leaving work, he steps behind the screen to exit and his shadow grows larger and larger as he distances himself while production continues. Perhaps analogous to no longer being a central character, and things continuing in his absence.

The latter: The scene at the end when Gilles is viewing an experimental film. The last scene of which seems to dissolve into his subliminal thought. As the female character slowly walks towards the viewer (Gilles) and progresses from a very blurred image to a clear one, her likeness seemed to vary between his two loves - Laura and Christene

Unsure and thinking that this might have been only my imagination. I asked my Professor about this perception. His response: "With a talent like Oliver Assayas, we can assume nothing is by accident"

Eric Acton's response

The French drama “Something in the Air “(2012) written and directed by Olivier Assayas focuses on the life maturing experiences of Gilles - an artistic high-school student in 1971. He participates in the activities of a 1970’s French countercultural movement with his high-school friends and later he begins to the realization that he is more interested in revolutions of music and art instead of politics. In the opening scenes, the director has recreated a chaotic clash between riot police and activists. He wants the audience to understand how passionate Gilles and his compatriots are about the countercultural movement. Gilles appears to have a passion for the revolution in these scenes. This passion seems to change after a security guard becomes injured during their daring nighttime graffiti raid on his school. The audience can sense that he is having second thoughts about his involvement in the group.

After the graffiti incident, he and his friends temporally disband to spend the summer in Italy to allow all the chaos of recent events to “die-down”. His enthusiasm about the political cause seems to diminish even further once he and his girlfriend Christine part ways. She joins a political propaganda filmmaking group that he considers “artistically uninspiring and politically primitive”. The director’s use of the scene from Pompeii, Italy with its entombed and preserved human remains leaves the audience with the sense that Gilles sees himself trapped within the expectations of his high-school friends. Gilles gazes upon these grotesque human figures and you can almost see how he feels that he’s been “entombed” by his friend’s political agenda and not allowed room for his own self-expression. It is at this point the film begins to specifically focus on Gilles’ struggle with the direction his life should take.

The two scenes where he re-encounters his ex-girlfriends, Laure and Christine leave you with the sensation that Gilles has no intention of returning to his previous ways, but to move forward in his life. It is a personal closure for him. He experiments with helping his father on a television detective series, but learns very quickly that he doesn’t want to conform to conventional views. At the end of the film the director does a brilliant job of establishing Gilles artistic and unconventional nature as Gilles is working on a film production that puts Nazis, a cavewoman and a monstrous lizard-like creature together. Gilles seems to have found what appears to be own identity.

Megan Kurkowski's response

Olivier Assayas film Something in the Air, is a film based on the events of the rebellion of May 1968. During this time there were many things going on, you saw protests, and vandalism, etc. You saw numerous accounts of rebellion, many of which failed. Many people had hopes of changing the world, and tried to do so in different ways. I think the people that were mainly affected by this was the youth; The kids in high school, the college students, and the young working people. It affected not only certain parts of Europe, but many different parts throughout.

The film follows a group of seniors in high school who are about to graduate, and are a part of the rebellion. The main focus throughout the film is on a young boy who aspires to be an artist, Gilles. The movie starts off with a riot in the streets. You are drawn in by sounds of screams, bombs, and people being beaten. The sounds made it seem as if I was there for myself in the midst of it all. At first I thought it was a dream, or a vision that one was having, but soon saw it was really happening.

In the beginning Gilles is in a relationship with Laure, who seem to be very in love with one another. We quickly find out that she is going away, and breaks up with him. Gilles seeming upset about the situation soon finds himself caught up in another relationship with Christine. You then see the group of friends vandalize things several times, from vandalizing the school with spray paint, to catching things on fire. They soon decide to go to Italy. I was just so taken back at how careless they were about just picking up and going. They didn’t have to answer to their parents or anything, they just picked up and went. I thought it was pretty cool how they really didn’t have the parents on top of them about what they were doing, or who they were with.

In another part of the film we see things have ended between Gilles and Christine. Laure invites Gilles to a party she and her new boyfriend are having. When they see each other at the party they go off to where they are excluded from everyone and nobody can see them. He takes out different paintings that he has done and shares them with her. At the moment one might think as I did myself that things would strike back up between the two, but he leaves to go back to the city. We then see Laure jump out of the window to escape the fire. One could also interpret that she is tripping off of “drugs” that she has taken, that’s what I myself thought. I like how he lets you wonder, and kind of come up with your own intake on whether it is real, or a trip.

In the end we see Gilles sitting in a theater watching a film. We see a young girl in a field of flowers. The resolution is a little blurry, so it is hard to make out who the girl might be. At first I thought maybe it was Christine, but as the resolution becomes more clearer we see that the girls is Laure. This I think going back to his first love, which his love has now turned to film. When we see Laure’s hand reach out, and then the screen turns white, I think could be the answer to your question of her death. Did she really die, or was the fire just an illusion she was having.

Over all this film was one that included the experiments, the rebellions, and the change that was taken place during this time. This film made me wish that I could have lived in the 60’s. The care free attitude that they had as youth is something that was so interesting to me. I would recommend people to watch this movie. It is both informative about the revolution and interesting.

Destini Wright's response:

The Olivier Assayas film, Something in the Air, is a French film centered around the events to follow and leading to the rebellion of May 1968. So much was going on throughout this year that tensions were high all around the world. Perhaps the group that was most effected and inspired however was the youth. From the high school students, the college students and even the young workers through out many parts of Europe. Everyone wanted to make a difference and to change the world. During this time the several failed rebellions that took place, kept adding fire to the next. What makes this film so intriguing is the way that it follows the group through out their journey over the year when they are transitioning from high school to college.

The film follows a young artist named Gilles. Gilles and his friends are right in the middle of the rebellion pushing their limits with all sorts of authority trying to prove a point. Rebellion and personal growth is a major aspect in this film. We start the movie with the riot in the street. This right off the back puts us right in the center of the madness. The sounds of the screams, the motorcycles, the gas bombs, the sounds of the students being beaten with the night sticks. Without anyone even saying a word we can picture for ourselves what is going on and that is was no longer just a joke or a thought. It was real.

As we see Gilles and his friends go from this scene and into some of the later ones with the graffiti and even into the violent acts in which leaves the security guard injured, they are constantly pushing their limits in what they are trying to get away with. This goes on through out the film in many undertones that we see, from as simple as smoking a cigarette, to sex, drug use, and even abortion. All very experimental things in this time of exploration. Things were changing and this group that we start out with are changing too. We start to see a pattern of how they are forced to change with the times and to adapt to their surroundings. We see that after his time traveling that Gilles comes back and during his conversation with Jean Pirre which has been working all summer he is not as anxious to jump back into the rebellion as him and the other workers are.

It makes us look at it in a way that shows those who have more to gain from the rebellions are the working class. Those who know what they want and are working for are angry and want justice and want to be noticed. Gilles and Christine however we see run off into a journey of their own with no regard of what they are leaving behind or how they will manage what is to come. They do not worry with expenses of the trip, of the side effects that are going to go with their actions. Nothing seems to have any repercussion to them in this adventure.

Aside from the undertones of rebellion we have many undertones of love and adventure as well. When we first see Gilles and Laura you think that they are so in love one second and then the next she tells him she is leaving him. In our time you could see this as the end of the world for a young man. Here however we see him quickly lean to Christine. Was this an actual act of love or lust? We would think that he was actually falling for her until we fast forward to the time when we see Gilles go to Laura. He burns the painting he brought for her simply so that no one else can see It. The fact that this is one of the most important things to him it speaks volumes the love that he still has for her.

But again as we said we are constantly seeing this group of youth growing and changing we later find out the Gilles actual love was film. He takes this and turns it into something that he can use to forever express himself. Not only for who he is but for who he hopes to be. Nearing the end we find him sitting in a theater. Watching a movie which shows a young beautiful free spirited girl in a field of flowers. We start to see as the resolution betters that his women is Laura, he focus in on her face. The way that the director portrays this scene is somewhat like a home video. We can then possible infer that this may not have been what Gilles was actually watching. It is possible this was a flashback for him on which he is replaying his life after he feels he is at a point of success that he can be proud of in which he brings his first love and his final love into sync together. However the fairy tale is quickly stopped when we see as Laura’s hand starts to reach out the picture quickly fades and she is gone. This I feel is used to answer the question of the fiery scene in which Laura seems to jump out of a window to escape a fire that is over taking the room. One would have before this questioned if that was real life. Was the fire actually thereof was is a side effect of the drugs that she has earlier taken that after seeing the bonfire was portrayed into her own personal trips.

As you can see this film is definitely one that plays to all of our emotions. It breaks down what we think about life and what we learn from our actions. For me it was even a way to compare my struggles now verses what was going on in the 60’s. It was more than a time for rebellion. It was a time for experimenting, it was a time for love and romance and a time for taking chances.

Chelsea Toth's response:

Director Olivier Assayas took his empirical knowledge of what it was personally like for him to grow up in the chaotic times of the 1970’s, a time that reeked political havoc throughout the through all societies at that time, and presented us with how young radical teenagers created their own revolutionary legacy living in the counter culture lifestyle of French society with his 2012 work, Something in the Air. During this time era there was a sense of urgency for the younger generation of the time to separate themselves from all other faulty social and political structures in order to stand up for what they knew was right. I still find it difficult to fully understand all of the complexities that these political upheavals stood for, but I do understand the basic historical background of when the characters in this film lived.

The characters in this film did not grow up in the time of the Second World War but the young adult part of their lives portrayed in this film is a reflection of all the moral values lost previously in those wars. Most of the kids of this time did not care to go to school or hold jobs; young adults all over were breaking ties from their families to live a life of freedom, making lifetime dedications to political change. This was one of the more appealing elements of this movie for me: the amount of freedom these kids were given is almost unfathomable to me. Even though this was a time of social inequality I honestly could say that I had a sense of jealousy for how these kids were living as I was watching this movie; the actions of the kids were so brave for that time period. No previous generations had lived as they were living, but they were truly happy even though not every moment was filled with peace and tranquility. At that time it was their job to question everything, socially or politically and even they broke any rules necessary to get their point across.

The approach to which Assayas took to combine all elements of the counter culture lifestyle with all the different aspects of art was skillfully put together to imitate the rich emotions of love and heartbreak that are also present in this radical film. Assayas carefully pieces together all of the rising actions in this film with very little dialogue, the little you can hear is being drowned out by the elaborative background music that splendidly mimics the emotions of the characters for any given scene. There were some parts in this film when the music revealed to me more insight into the characters than their words ever could. There is a scene when the main character Gilles goes to visit his old girlfriend and after he leaves the house party by near the end of the scene I predicted exactly what was happening in the house just through the music and sound effects and I was actually utterly amazed about how well the suspense of that scene built.

Even though this film is not based on Western society many similar issues known in our lives are delivered through the lives of these young revolutionists as they experiment with life and death situations. I recommend this film to anyone who has ever had a dream that seems out of reach because the characters in this film make anything seem possible.

Kelly Battiato's response:

Olivier Assayas' French film, Something in the Air, takes place in May 1968 in France at a time when the students and workers were striking against the French government. The movie follows a group of high school students who are about to graduate, and who want to join in the revolution. Assayas captures what it was like to be a young adult in that time period very accurately and I found it very interesting that the film is loosely based off of his own life at that time.

There were so many major events taking place all of the world, Martin Luther King shot, the civil rights movement, Vietnam war, Bobby Kennedy's assassination and then in France the largest workers and student strike ever to happen. The clothes, music, and overall tone of the movie reflected that time perfectly and transported me to that time and place.

The story mainly follows Gilles who is an aspiring painter, trying to find himself. In the beginning of the film Gilles and his girlfriend, Laure break up and he seems to be pretty devastated by it, but soon distracts himself with a new love interest, Christine, who is also in the student rebellion. After an incident of vandalism and a security guard getting hurt Gilles and his friends head to Italy for the summer to lay low and stay off the radar. I loved the scene on the boat in Italy, I feel like it captured what their time was like there...almost like a dream. They were carefree, meeting new people, and soaking in the beauty around them. I liked whenever they showed Gilles art, I found it inspiring, and I also liked how they showed the progress of his work from the start of the film to when he sees Laure again.

About halfway through the film I felt like it was a little slow and I had a hard time staying focused. I thought the film was shot very beautifully and artistically and I appreciated that. I did keep wondering how these kids were able to just travel around and wondered about their parents. Gilles father who is in the film industry is introduced later, but is only briefly in the film. Gilles and Christine's relationship ends in Italy and Gilles goes back to France to try and focus on art school.

I liked how this film showed how that age is all about exploring who you are and finding out who you want to be. All of the characters in the film are searching and kind of lost and wondering. From the beginning to the end of the movie the characters all change and by the end you see what direction they decide to take. Gilles ends up taking a totally different path with film instead of being a revolutionist or a painter. It's funny how things work out. In a way he was combining his two passions, art mixed with sending out a message through film. I think the purpose of this film was to really transport you to a time when the world was changing so much, and to view it through the eyes of these young students. This year was a monumental one for the world, and for all of the main characters- it was a defining moment in their lives and in the worlds.

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