Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Olivier Assayas
Stars: Clement Metayer, Carol Combes, Lola Creton, Felix Armand.
After May (also known as Something In The Air) is the latest film from French director Olivier Assayas, whose previous films include the epic television miniseries Carlos, a detailed look at the infamous terrorist from the 70s. There is a semi-autobiographical element to After May, which is set in the aftermath of the student riots of 1968. This is a coming of age tale that explores themes of art, class, political theory, filmmaking, and the misguided idealism of youth, and has a number of superficial similarities to Bertolucci’s The Dreamers.
1968 was a time of great unrest and agitation as politically aware students took to the streets of Paris to protest against both a reactionary government and a society they believed was too complacent. By 1971 much of that fervour had dissipated, but many students still tried to maintain the rage. One such student was 17-year old Gilles (played by newcomer Clement Metayer), an aspiring artist who becomes caught up in the fervour of student rebellion and activism.
This is a portrait of the artist as a young man, and Gilles is obviously Assayas’ surrogate here. He hands out underground newspapers to fellow students and gets involved in spray painting political slogans on the walls of their school. Along with his girlfriend Laure (Carole Combes) and his best friend Alain (Felix Armand) Gilles heads off to Italy for a summer of sex, parties and fun. He meets the politically active Christine (Lola Creton), and becomes involved with a group of activist filmmakers.
Sometime after the initial fervour dies away though the youths find themselves caught up in a sense of malaise as they drift through life trying to find their place in a changing world full of compromises and disappointments. Ideals, passion, sex and politics are the main elements of their hedonistic world until harsher realities set in. Gilles becomes disenchanted with politics and eventually relocates to London where he gains work at Pinewood film studio.
Assayas obviously has a personal connection to the characters and the events depicted here, and this is a passion project for him. He imbues the film with a touch of nostalgia and effectively captures the spirit of rebellion in the air. This is a romaticised vision of the recent past, and the film has been beautifully shot by regular cinematographer Eric Gautier. After May is at times rather self indulgent. However he effectively captures this turbulent era through costumes, production design, and an evocative soundtrack.
Assayas presents us with a large number of characters to follow, none of whom are particularly interesting, and audiences will find it hard to sympathise or identify with them. The handsome young cast play their roles with conviction, although only Metayer in his first film role makes much of an impression.
The first half of the film is the most enjoyable, vibrant and energetic. Much of the initial energy dissipates in the second half as a malaise seems to settle over the material itself and it lacks any real sense of drama. After May also meanders, which gives the film a lack of focus.