Set in 1968, we follow the coming-of-age tale of idealist student Gilles (Clément Métayer), an aspiring artist and political activist who joins forces with a group of likeminded youngsters, seeking a change and brighter future in the wake of the riots that took place across France that spring. Torn between his political allegiances and artistic notions, such a divide extends to his love life, as he falls for two women – Laure (Carole Combes), a freewheeling, liberated bohemian, and Christine (Lola Créton), a dedicated campaigner and revolutionary, and it seems that Gilles’ romantic decision is also one that will shape his own future and destiny.
In what is effectively a character study of one young boy becoming a man and having to make decisions about the path he will take in his life, Assayas ensures we have a fair representation of our lead, who has the ability to irritate and inspire the viewer in equal measure. Both Gilles and his friends are not glorified in any way for their often violent actions, it’s not quite as black and white as a collective of working class heroes fighting for the good of the world, and instead their stubborn narcissism is explored, and at times they are made to look somewhat pathetic. Although fighting for a good cause and for their own future, they are also naïve and over zealous.
Métayer isn’t bad as Gilles, yet he does seem somewhat too feeble and apathetic to carry a film of this magnitude, disallowing the viewer to become emotionally invested in his cause, which is needed. On the other hand, it’s effective as he takes on the form of a mere cipher, a catalyst for the audience to see this world through such curious eyes, allowing for the supporting roles to take precedence. However given the lack of any domineering characters, we are reliant on Gilles to have more bite to him, and sadly he doesn’t deliver. Perhaps more of a back story to our protagonist would be beneficial, or at least a study into his home life, to help us understand him, and thus care for him. Instead, we delve into his predicament too hastily, and as such we struggle to comprehend his rebellious motives.
What Assayas does do remarkably, is capture the era so genuinely, as you really get a feel for what life was like during such a tumultuous time across Europe, complimented triumphantly with a psychedelic score, as we get a sense that something new and inspiring is taking place, capturing the 60s sensibilities and inherent optimism that seems to have existed amongst the younger crowd. This is a multilayered piece, and one that scrutinises over the perennial conflict between art and politics, though what the actual message Assayas wants portrayed, remains to be seen, leaving a few unanswered questions. Though perhaps that’s the entire point, as both lifestyles serve equally as impactful and influential a cause to society, while interchangeable at the best of times.
Something in the Air is somewhat too ambitious within its aims, fitting too much in to its two hour running time. Maybe Assayas would have benefited from taking a pointer from himself, and, just as he did with Carlos, could take this material and divide it across three mini films, as there is certainly the scope to do so.