Released in France in 2008 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the May 68 demonstrations in Paris, which at their height virtually brought the entire advanced capitalist economy of France to a dramatic halt, Born in 68 (2008) was not made to show the events of 1968 but to encompass 40 years of French political and family life seen mainly through the eyes of earth mother and life long hippie Catherine (played by Laetitia Casta who played Brigitte Bardot in the award winning 2010 biopic Gainsbourg) and her friends who were all students at the time of the unrest.
Two versions were made; a longer version for Channel ARTE as one of the many tributes, mainly in documentary form, screened on French television to commemorate these momentous events and a second version for the cinema at a shorter 167 minutes. 1968 is only the starting point and we witness very little of the disturbances quickly moving on to the development of a commune in the picturesque France countryside where at the beginning it was all happening (in the parlance of the era!).
The film is split into two distinct parts, the late 1960’s and 70’s and then the 1990’s to beyond the millennium. The differences certainly show, with the directors appearing to have a better understanding of the latter period. Olivier Ducastel, born in 1962 and Jacques Martineau, born in 63 were obviously not as comfortable with the earlier part where our two French men had only childhood experiences but the second section includes their own personnel experiences providing a more contented feel to their directing prowess. There research did however involve carrying out a substantial amount of interviews with people that either lived or holidayed on communes.
Martineau acknowledged in an interview that cinema is just another way of being involved in politics hence the film does touch on many moral issues of that era. These are seen to involve the breakdown of moral codes including the feminist and gay movements, abortion rights, gay rights, immigration and civil rights. Also because the film tends to have a guy premise running through the later part, it obviously tackles the problems of Aids and highlight’s the ACT UP international action advocacy group, founded in New York in 1987, which works ‘to impact the lives of people with AIDS and the AIDS pandemic to bring about legislation, medical research and treatment and polices to ultimately bring an end to the disease by mitigating loss of health and lives’.
Although a thought-provoking movie it does tend to romanticise the French youth, the middle aged professional classes and their politics and I’m sure that 1970’s communes weren’t quite as sanitised as the one we see on our screen, considering that it did not have running water! And I can’t help but feel that this movie is understated and probably a squandered opportunity to make a more determined example of the history of French politics over the last 40 years.