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Something in the Air

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 05/03/13 06:33:46

"The Perks Of Being A Socialist Wallflower"
5 stars (Awesome)

Acclaimed French filmmaker Olivier Assayas tends to divide his work between vast and sprawling epics such as"Irma Vep," "Demonlover," "Carlos") with smaller, character-driven dramas like his previous project, "Summer Hours." In his latest film, "Something in the Air," he straddles the two extremes and the end result, despite its seeming casual nature, is arguably the best and most deeply felt work of his entire career.

This time around, Assayas looks inward as he presents the semi-autobiographical story of Gillies (Clement Metayer), a teenaged wannabe artist who finds himself swept up in the radical student movement of Paris in the early 1970's and forced to spend the summer laying low with other young radicals in the Italian countryside after one of their actions violently backfires. For a while, it is a paradise of intense bull sessions and free love but after a while, the bloom comes off the rose and what once looked like an idealized situation grows into an increasingly tiresome and frustrating clash of differing ideologies in which all other concerns are deemed secondary to the cause. By the end of the summer, the increasingly disenchanted Gilles must decide whether to continue to embrace a cause that he no longer truly burns for or to reject those once-cherished notions in order to live the kind of life he once held in such contempt.

Unlike a lot of the previous films that have chronicled this particular era in more romantic terms, Assayas has taken a somewhat more radical approach by telling his story in a deliberately restrained manner that eschews empty nostalgia for a more nuanced, warts-and-all look at the events and characters he is depicting. There are moments of triumph to be sure but he also takes pains to include both the consequences of those acts and the reality of this type of situation once the initial excitement has faded away. At the same time, Assayas does a wonderful job of evoking the period without resorting to the usual cliches thanks to the lovely contributions of cinematographer Eric Gautier and a impressive soundtrack of cannily-chosen obscurities from the era that smartly underscore the emotions of the scenes without coming across as being too on the nose for their own good.

"Something in the Air" is one of the best films to date from one of the greats on the world cinema scene and one of the most affecting coming-of-age films to come along in a long time. It manages to tell a specific story of the pangs of adolescence that is tied remarkably into a specific time and yet manages to do so in such a universal way that anyone, regardless of when or where they grew up, will be able to relate to the ideas and emotions that it invokes.This is a great film.

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