Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins Ranked From Best To Worst: Every Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winner Ranked From Best To Worst: Every Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winner Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck The 10 Best Films Of 2002 The 10 Best Films Of 2002 Check Out These Minimalist, Old School Paperback-Style Posters For The Films Of Wes Anderson Check Out These Minimalist, Old School Paperback-Style Posters For The Films Of Wes Anderson First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' The 30 Most Anticipated Movies Of The 2015 Sundance Film Festival The 30 Most Anticipated Movies Of The 2015 Sundance Film Festival The 10 Best Films Of 2001 The 10 Best Films Of 2001 2015 Oscar Nominees Get The Honest Poster Treatment 2015 Oscar Nominees Get The Honest Poster Treatment Watch: Full 90-Minute Documentary 'Great Directors' With David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Todd Haynes And More Watch: Full 90-Minute Documentary 'Great Directors' With David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Todd Haynes And More "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice The 20 Most Anticipated Foreign Films Of 2015 The 20 Most Anticipated Foreign Films Of 2015 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point

Göteborg Interview: 'Something In The Air' Director Olivier Assayas On Rebellion, Memory & Godard Vs. Truffaut

The Playlist By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist February 6, 2013 at 4:05PM

With “Something in the Air,” French director Olivier Assayas (“Carlos,” “Summer Hours,” “Irma Vep,” “Cold Water”) turned in his most autobiographical work to date. A coming-of-age tale set against a backdrop of radical student politics, sex and drugs in 1970s France, we reviewed the film out of Venice  and then caught up with the director at NYFF to talk about it. All of which meant when we recently got to meet him again, at the Göteborg International Film Festival, we could afford the luxury of letting the conversation range off-topic from the revolutionary politics of the film’s era to the idea of storytelling in film as an act of rebellion, to the problems in film criticism (Assayas himself wrote for Cahiers du Cinema) and even briefly to the Beatles vs the Stones.
1

Something In The Air
How do you feel about Hollywood cinema in general these days?
To me what is happening now in the U.S. is ultimately the big franchise movies, they are closer to animation than to actual cinema, to me there is an increasing gap between movies that involve special effects and movies that involve actual individuals that you are filming in real light. It’s major. And I do respect some of the visuals and the inspiration of big Hollywood movies, but it’s becoming two completely different art forms -- it involves completely different skills and completely different knowledge. 

What I love about movies is the possiblity to capture reality. I don’t believe in enhanced reality, I don’t believe in tampering with reality because if you start touching special effects you end up thinking that, for instance, this view through the window, it’s not good enough. Why can’t the sky be blue? We are in Sweden, it’s winter, why not have a little snow falling, it would be cute? And it becomes conventional, it becomes some sort of archetypal vision of the world. 

I’m really happy to be filming someone and in the background have something that feels real -- I don’t want to control it. I’m interested in the way it is, as it is: random. 

"I started making movies in a context where really the radical move was to tell stories"
In the film Gilles moves into film via painting, as you did. How did that progression from a representative to a storytelling medium occur?
Well, I started making movies in a context where really the radical move was to tell stories. It was the end of the 1970s, early 1980s and gradually the notion was coming back to cinema that it was ok to tell stories, that you didn’t have to make a second-hand Godardian movie. All of the independent filmmaking of the time was really about abstraction, about Brechtian distancing -- I’m not talking about the mainstream industry that was always producing narrative films, which felt very dull and old-fashioned. If you were in the independent film scene you made abstract films.

To me that system had gone full circle and I started making movies on the assumption that there was a possibility of some kind of figuration, of neo-figuration, where within the framework of independent filmmaking you could make again character-centered actor-driven movies that actually told stories, that looked at the world in a straightforward way. But that was going against the current then.

Who were your early influences then, if not Godard?
Ultimately I think that the filmmaker who influenced me the most in that respect was Bergman -- it was a mixture of Francois Truffaut and Bergman which made me understand the space where I felt I could make movies… At the time [Truffaut and Godard] was like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, you were either one or the other, and Truffaut was considered less radical than Godard. To me Truffaut is a genius, one of the great filmmakers of all time and there’s no contradiction between loving Truffaut and Godard, as much as there is no contradiction between loving the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The early Rolling Stones.

Something in the Air Gilles
As an erstwhile film critic yourself, is it possible to turn your critical, analyst’s eye onto your own career and work?
I can’t think in those terms. That’s where the movie critic has to be a little bit of a psychoanalyst, that he will end up seeing things that are very obvious but that the patient is blind to! I don’t think of my movies in thematic terms. To be as honest as I can, I see my movies as a whole. Sometimes I will be on the set, and I work always more or less with the same crew, and if I sat down and closed my eyes, I could be on any set of any of my movies any time, with that sense I’ve only ever been making one film since I started; it’s all just fragments of one experience.

So there is a value to film criticism?
I think there has to be a dialogue. The problem is there’s two different things -- one thing is film criticism; the other thing is film theory. And film criticism, sometimes it’s useful, sometimes it’s not. But the problem is that today film theory has become academic, in the literal sense, it’s been absorbed by academia. In my book, it’s not film theory any more, it’s film ideology -- it's stiff it’s dead, it’s dogmatic, it deals with the cinema of the past. Whereas theory should be informed by practice. And now the whole trend of criticism is about giving points... this is a 5.4, this is a 6.7 or two smileys or zero smileys, to me it’s horrible, really horrible, it’s such a disturbing approach to cinema.

"Something In The Air" will open later this year via IFC Films.

This article is related to: Olivier Assayas, Göteborg International Film Festival, Something In The Air, Interview


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates