Last year, David Chase's Not Fade Away made an explicit case for rock music as a force for cultural transformation and fell flat. But without coming out and stating it, Cold Water and [director Olivier] Assayas' latest film, Something in the Air, do a much more successful job. (Something in the Air's use of music is so powerful that it inspired me to buy a Kevin Ayers album a few days after I saw it.)
In the early '70s, Gilles (Clément Métayer), a high school student in a Parisian suburb, is consumed by the political and artistic spirit of the period. While his friends are more politically engaged, he follows a more solitary path, pursuing art. He sleeps with several girls. When his father, a TV screenwriter, becomes ill, he starts to work menial jobs in the mainstream film industry, although he dreams of making experimental art films.
Something in the Air may best be described as a liberal film about radical times. Critic Richard Porton has suggested that it's a film François Truffaut might have made about leftist politics. Yet Assayas takes the ins and outs of his characters' politics so seriously that he obviously has firsthand knowledge of the time and place. He captures what it's like, for example, to engage in endless arguments with people with whom you basically agree.
Even if his perspective is largely critical, no other contemporary narrative film has documented the '70s far left with this degree of detail. Something in the Air captures its subjects with an uncanny sharpness, both in terms of form and content. Its rural landscapes — the characters seem to live about half an hour outside Paris — owe more to Impressionist painting than other films.