There is fire everywhere in Olivier Assayas' scorching new coming-of-age drama, Something in the Air. It is in the passions, in the politics, and in the sex roiling through the filmmaker's vision of 1970s Paris. For this is a memoir of sorts of Assayas' youth - the forces that pulled at him and the choices that shaped him.
Coming off his acclaimed Carlos, a six-hour opus on the Venezuelan revolutionary known as Carlos the Jackal, Assayas hasn't left those themes as much as gotten more intimate in exploring them. His screenplay, which won the Venice Film Festival prize last year, is so adept at moving between the mood swings of the talented and torn central character, Gilles (Clément Métayer), that you feel as much as watch this film.
Gilles is just finishing high school but already he's deeply in love with his art, a girl named Laure (Carole Combes), and a cause, the incendiary leftist resistance fermenting in Paris at the time. Before the movie ends, they will all break his heart.
Laure, a breathtaking beauty who looks as though she were born to run barefoot through fields, which she does, or crawl into Gilles bed, which she also does, is the first to leave him. She is the lingering ache of that unattainable idealized love that never truly disappears.
The cause puts him on the front lines from the beginning. He and a tight circle of equally committed young anarchists are the foot soldiers of the revolution, plastering Paris with posters, spray-painting their outrage on school walls, filling the ranks of protesters running through streets, tossing Molotov cocktails in their wake. It will also bring Gilles a different sort of love in Christine (Lola Créton), whose affections are forever torn between the movement and the boy struggling to grow into a man.
Though the central story of Something in the Air is personal, politics push the action from the beginning, with Gilles serving as the messenger.
Beyond Assayas' strengths as a storyteller, he has assembled an exceptionally fine cast of young actors. In addition, Assayas has such a steady hand as a director, he knows precisely how to let Gilles' angst play out. His nostalgia for the past can be felt in the affection and forgiving way the indiscretions of youth are portrayed.
In creating a mashup of a Paris rocked by political storms and a young man in just as much turmoil, the director has given us a glimpse of an imperfect moment and an imperfect life in a slightly imperfect but wonderful film.
Something in the Air ***1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Olivier Assayas. With Clément Métayer, Lola Créton, and Felix Armand. In French with English subtitles. Distributed by IFC.
Running time: 2 hour, 5 mins.
Parent's guide: Not rated (sex, nudity, street protests).
Playing at: Ritz Bourse.