Wednesday, May 8, 2013

'Something in the Air'

There is something grating about that generation. In America, they call them Baby Boomers, but they are all around the world; telling the stories about being young, inspired, revolutionaries fighting for what was right. What's so unnerving to me about these people is the implicit criticism of today's young people in what they say. Listen, I'm not saying that all this romanticizing of hippies, woodstock and revolution is what drives young people to go down to Occupy Wall Street and other types of activism today. Except that I kind of am. I know that these people have real concerns and want to do good and all that, but isn't some of it the desire to feel like they're being part of a zeitgest similar to what happened back in the 60s? 

This situation is kind of fascinating to me. How can young people feel so much nostalgia for the past? Why is it that you have so many young people commenting on YouTube how music isn't what it used to be in the 60s and 70s? Are these stories are new mythology? Are the Beatles our new gods? The thing about the romantic past is that it never existed. What does exist is Something in the Air, a new movie by french auteur Olivier Assayas, that turns the myth into reality. 

Something in the Air takes place after the oh so romanticized events of May 1968 (the french title, Apres mai, meaning "after May" is a direct reference). The movie tells the story of a group of revolutionary high school students that more than anything want to dedicate their lives to make the world a better place through the socialist ideas they believe in. To achieve this, they organize protest, paint graffiti in their high school and attack security guards. They are persecuted by the police. Some of them are put in jail, some have to leave the country, but at the end of the day they are still young men and woman, fresh out of high school, who don't know what to do with their lives when trying to change the world through juvenile pranks won't do. 

Assayas has to be one of the best directors working today. He was thirteen years old in 1968, so he wasn't exactly part of the protests, he was, however, part of the very first generation to whom the stories about this glorious time were told. He got to hear the romantic retelling, but he also probably knew people who were there, people who were more than idealized revolutionaries. What I loved so much about this movie is the way it strips the myth and turns the participants into real humans. These are kids who just finished school, they haven't even been to college yet and still they are a utopian ideal. Idealization isn't really a thing I would recommend, but there is a particularly big problem with idealizing young people: you are idealizing young people. I am pretty young and let me tell you, young people are pretty dumb. We don't know anything about life, yet we think we do. The young people in Something in the Air (played by a wonderful cast that includes newcomers Clément Métayer and Lola Créton) are just like the young people of today. Let me tell you, I identified.

I identified in the way they didn't know what to do with their lives. In the way they wanted to be painters, then all of a sudden filmmakers, then painters again. The way they desperately cling to whatever ideal they can find just to feel like their life has meaning and direction. They let the ideal of revolution influence the way they shape their lives. And how could they not? It's something people are still doing today. Is rioting and fighting the establishment really what young people are all about or just what they are told they are about? If that's the case, then wouldn't fighting against the establishment be the establishment? How can young people be young when their very youth is so charged with ideas of what it is supposed to be like? 

There is a cynical vein to Something in the Air, but it is not a satire. There are very comedic moments about socialists engaging in ridiculous arguments about ideology, but the film doesn't really judge them. The real strength of the film is that is not out to tell us something, but to show us. It doesn't tell us what it thinks of these young people, it just shows us what they're like. It wants to run as far as it can from myth and ideals. It just wants to be. This is a film that shows the protagonists going as far as to commit violent crimes and terrorist activities. But at the end, are they terrorists or kids playing make-believe? 

Score: 8/10

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