Sex, drugs, riots, and rock 'n' roll are just a few of the cultural elements within Olivier Assayas’ latest film, “Something in the Air.” Following high-school revolutionary Gilles (Clément Métayer) and his various friends, the filmmaker tracks burgeoning French political awakening and a coming-of-age story with a keen eye, basing much of the plot on his own life in the 1970s. Gilles wavers between radical commitment and more personal, artistic aspirations while also grappling with love and loss. We caught the movie at the Venice Film Festival and dug it, complementing the movie on its substance and sharp look.
In support of its screening at the New York Film Festival, Assayas sat down with us to talk about the way music shaped the film, his view on the Occupy movement, and a few movies he kept in the back of his mind during production. IFC will be handling its theatrical release, but in the meantime, check out the international trailer right here.
Music plays a prominent role in ‘Air’ for obvious reasons -- what politically charged teenager isn’t obsessing over albums at that age? Featuring songs from progressive '70s psych-rock/psych-folk bands like Amazing Blondel, Tangerine Dream, Soft Machine and The Incredible String Band, Assayas has always been influenced by his favorite tunes but often found himself playing trial and error in the editing room, as the songs he was originally inspired by made their way into the film in other ways -- thus including the actual songs felt redundant. His new film, though, was a different story. “Here there's no space between the music and the narrative. It's the music of those times: I wanted to have a Syd Barrett song, same with Nick Drake. That was the music that I actually listened to when I was drawing, so it's like they belonged there,” he said. The choice of tunes also reflected a bigger idea he wanted to put forth, a sort-of “tribute” to the 1970s. “In its own way I wanted it to represent the underground culture in the '70s. I knew I didn't want anything that was mainstream, I wanted to use stuff that people never use in movies.” The film also includes songs by Phil Ochs, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band and The Incredible String Band founder Robin Williamson.
It’s difficult to talk about the film without noting that it’s likely autobiographical -- it’s centered on the exact decade that Assayas grew up in, and the lead character goes from revolutionary sprout to painter to filmmaker along the course of the movie. The filmmaker does admit that it is based off of his own life, but stresses that he eventually allowed ‘Air’ to veer off and become its own creature. “To recreate the mood of those times and to get it right, I used incidents of my youth because at least I was able to work on something solid. I kind of built the film from there, which means I constantly moved away from autobiography because you don't really do a biography on film. It's like fiction. When you write fiction you start from your own experience and you use your own emotions and that's what makes it genuine in a certain way,” he stated. As for whether he was involved with the various riots and protesting, Assayas had one simple answer. “You had to, there was no choice,” he declared.