"Something in the Air": Just in Time for May '68

World-cinema mainstay Olivier Assayas' inviting new film is about young French people and the lived legacy of May '68. Interestingly, these are kids who came of age not precisely at that moment but a few years later, and not right in Paris but a few miles away. So their version of student-worker solidarity seems like a slightly threadbare, hand-me-down idealism, with even the most contentious political talking points addressed in a manner skewing more aloof than pedantic. The film also has that wonderful French way of seeming unabashedly autobiographical — as if in quiet moments we can almost hear Assayas whisper, "Well of course it's me; who else would it be?" Played intelligently by a mop-topped Clément Métayer, the director's young proxy here is a reflective sort, vexed with very real indecision about whether to fill his life with art or anarchism — and about whether it's true, as somebody says in some commune, that "you can't make entertainment in revolutionary times." Interested, but commendably unwilling to wait around, the lovely young ladies in and out of his life are played by Carole Combes and Lola Créton, each distinctly radiant. Fortified by a discerning psych-rock soundtrack (no, that's not a contradiction) and using skills likely honed in his epic political miniseries Carlos, Assayas shows strong command of people and their group energies, casually zipping between scenes of tumult and tenderness, and synthesizing them into respectful remembrance.

 
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