Nick Schager‘s split verdict in Slant is pretty indicative of the reviews we’ve been seeing since screenings in Venice and Toronto: “Echoing its title, Something in the Air is, first and foremost, a work of atmosphere, as Olivier Assayas‘s latest is most successful at steeping itself in the look and feel of 1971 Paris, where youthful revolutionaries, spurred by the events of May 1968, seek to find meaning and make an impact through their own radicalism…. Despite a fixation on fire as a cleansing agent (explosions, burning paintings, or a blazing house), the film, enveloping as it is, proves woefully short on burning dramatic or thematic intensity.”
“About midway through Olivier Assayas’s roman à clef,” notes Adam Nayman in Reverse Shot, “the director’s tousle-haired juvenile stand-in, Gilles (Clement Metayer), encounters a cell of agitprop filmmakers. Moving through Italy with his new girlfriend/fellow traveler Christine (Lola Creton), he has met them at an outdoor screening of a didactic documentary about Laotian insurgents. The directors take a question from the audience about why their supposedly taboo-breaking film has been produced in such an accessible manner. ‘Isn’t revolutionary syntax a petit bourgeois affectation?’ chides the filmmaker cheekily…. If Assayas is using this scene to practice a bit of the old Cahiers film criticism that jump-started his career, it’s not exactly a subtle gambit. A few colleagues even read this exchange as an unflattering authorial apologia for Something in the Air‘s lightly airbrushed aesthetics, which are far from the revolutionary syntax of demonlover or even the crackerjack action movie moves of Carlos (another film, come to think of it, about the literally and figuratively seductive aspects of nascent activism). Upon a few weeks’ worth of reflection, I can concede Something in the Air is indeed a little anodyne, a bit blandly lovely both in its casting and in its ’70’s-inflected cinematography. It’s also fleet and fluid, which are welcome qualities and recognizable hallmarks of Assayas’s cinema over the years to boot.”
“With its wistful nostalgia and grunge-glamour take on the era’s violent radicalism, Olivier Assayas’s latest could be chalked up as Cold Water meets Carlos,” suggests David Fear in Time Out New York. “But in reality, this may be the consummate Assayas movie, as he distills a career’s worth running themes and motifs (cinephilia, youth run wild, a perfectly curated soundtrack) into one aching portrait of the political and the personal.”
“Cold Water was rough, messy and unfinished,” writes Patrick Z. McGavin. “Something in the Air has a rare and vital tone, a tough, honest and scrupulous reconstruction of the past, its youthful ardor mixed with a romantic verve.”
“For a film about beautiful young people discovering sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, and revolution, Something in the Air is inert and humorless,” finds Darren Hughes. “Boring, even.” But for Dustin Chang, writing a Twitch, the “hopefulness and youthful energy is quite infectious.”
Interviews with Assayas: Adam Nayman for Reverse Shot and Anna Tatarska, here in Keyframe.
Update: Assayas tells that Playlist “that he plans to reteam with Juliette Binoche for the tentatively titled Since Maria which he’s expected to shoot next spring. For the most part Assayas was tight-lipped about the project, but he did stress that after two films set in the 1970s he was ready to do something ‘radically different…. I’ve written it for Juliette Binoche, it’s based on her. A Juliette Binoche movie about Juliette Binoche with Juliette Binoche,’ he explained excitedly with a smile. ‘It will be in English and part of the cast will be American.'”
Update, 10/12: Vadim Rizov at GreenCine Daily: “‘It’s very hard to be nostalgic about the ’70s because I was so happy when they were over,’ Assayas said during his New York Film Festival press conference. Gilles’s path closely mirrors his own, forming one steady retreat from politics into the film industry. Unlike many recaps of the era, sex and radical activism are decidedly severed. There’s a party sequence halfway through that explicitly summons memories of Assayas’s previous ’70s-childhood-recap, 1994’s Cold Water, but the good drug vibes of that film’s bonfires and records gathering have curdled into a pit of unpleasant, jabbering faces. Gilles leaves in a sulk; it’s no longer his scene, and the house is shortly consumed by flames thereafter, confirming his wisdom in moving on.”
Update, 10/14: Blogging for the Voice, Nick Pinkerton argues that “far from a straightforward celebration of youthful radicalism, Something in the Air exhibits a mature understanding that systems aren’t only made of walls to be smashed through, but of flesh-and-blood people, and Assayas’s dogged authority figures are quite sympathetically drawn: ‘I won’t encourage you to tell on others,’ sighs Gilles’s principal after a graffiti bombing, ‘I regret having to waste my budget to have to pay for your stupidity.’ … Assayas also slyly intimates that much of the average young person’s attraction to political radicalism came from a carnal impulse, a chance to be where the action is: ‘Your text shows what’s really at stake,’ says the editor of a leftist paper—just before a hard cut to a nude woman, standing before a life drawing class.”
NYFF 2012: a guide to the coverage of the coverage. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @KeyframeDaily on Twitter and/or the RSS feed. Get Keyframe Daily in your inbox by signing in at fandor.com/daily.