Monday, 22 July 2013

Something in the Air (Après Mai).

The English translation for Après Mai (2011) is ‘After May’. The May referred too is the one in 1968 when France erupted into volatile period of civil disquiet that began with student unrest and wildcat strikes followed by street battles with the authorities, a massive general strike involving 11,000,000 workers and the occupation of factories and universities. This action by the people of France lead to a governmental fear of a civil war or even a revolution, President Charles de Gaulle fleeing to the safety of a military base in Western Germany. It brought the entire advanced capitalist economy of France to a dramatic halt. This mini revolution eventually petered out with the violent confrontations evaporating and the workers returning to work. When new elections were held in the following June the Gaullist party emerged stronger than ever!

Director and writer Oliver Assayas latest outing is set near Paris, we have moved on 3 years from the heady days of 1968. But we are still dealing with students and their political activism. The main character is the 16-year-old Gilles (newcomer Clement Metayer) a leftist activist and budding painter with a taste for the Madcap Laughs of Syd Barrett who is prepared to act on his beliefs and take part in various forms of civil disobedience. We meet like-minded teenagers who belong to such collectives as Vive la revolution or the Youth Liberation Front and think they can change the world order. But they come up against not only the elite French bourgeoisie but also various left wing groupings that offer no support to the enthusiastic youngsters, as normal it appears impossible for the Left to be unified. (Something’s never change) Other characters involved in Gilles life and politics are the willowy bohemian Laure who is more of a hippy than a politicalised activist, his ultra serious girlfriend Christine (Bluebeard star Lola Creton) who, after a particularly nasty incident involving a security guard during a violent confrontation, goes travelling with a group of militant filmmakers and best friend Alain who takes up with Leslie an American dance student whom he accompanies  on a journey to Afghanistan.

The excitement of youth.

This adrenaline rush of a movie pays great attention to detail from the vinyl long player to the VW Camper Van via Molotov cocktails and slogan graffiti and does not hold back when demonstrating the brutality of the authorities representatives. How this semi autobiographical works makes you envy the freedoms afforded to youth during this period. In an interview with the director, conducted on behalf of The Guardian newspaper, he states that ‘the films motivation is the dynamics of the collective, likened to an anarchist organism, but at the expense of intimacy’. Which basically means that the ‘cause’ comes before anything else even your own personnel feelings.
The end justifies the means?
My only criticism is that the film merely hints at the real struggle: the inequalities of the working class. Where as our middle class academic students don’t really seem to want for anything, they walk the walk and talk the talk, but you can’t help but feel that most of them will end up as the bourgeoisie with well paid careers, a large semi detached, three privately educated children and croissants for breakfast. But all the same a great movie from the man that gave us Carlos the Jackal 2010, a five and a half hour masterpiece originally made for TV and the slow burning emotional study of a French family under stress Summer Hours (2008). 

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