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UICA screening French film "Something in the Air"

"Something in the Air," a film about French students in 1968, opened at UICA Friday June 28.


6/28 Friday – 2:30, 7:00 p.m.
6/29 Saturday – 2:30, 7:00 p.m.
6/30 Sunday – 12:15, 5:00 p.m.
7/1 Monday – Closed
7/2 Tuesday – 7:00 p.m.
7/3 Wednesday – 7:00 p.m.
7/4 Thursday – 7:00 p.m.

Olivier Assayas’ new film “Something in the Air” opened at the UICA this Friday. The film follows a group of secondary school students in Paris as they marinate in their own discontent and mild revolutionary spirit. The film’s protagonist is Gilles, a young man teetering on the outskirts of his more motivated group of somewhat anarchist friends.

Throughout the film we watch Gilles as he attempts to navigate the world and follow the doctrine his friends are trying to create and then occupy. They’re anti-communist, anti-capitalist, and only sort of anarchist. Some of them want to make films about “the people’s struggle,” but really the only thing they can all seem to agree on is how angry they feel.

About something.

The viewer catches the conclusion of a school year, which may or may not have been Gilles’ senior year- it was never clear- and the rest of the film follows his summer activities as he tries to determine what comes next. It’s actually a pretty remarkable summer he ends up having, and as a viewer I found myself having a hard time understanding what exactly was supposed to be making everyone so angry. None of the characters seem to have a concrete cause.

But that’s the problem I had with the film in general. These are children of the sixties, so I understand they’re angry at the state of the world at large. They are trying to become a part of something bigger than themselves. They spend the whole movie referencing “the coming revolution” and behaving as if they’re working for the Resistance during the Nazi Occupation.

What they’ve actually done is spray-painted the exterior walls of their school in the final days of classes, and then spend the summer attempting to evade punishment.

The film never seems to make an effort to instill a sense of their struggle in the viewer.

There’s no emotion in any of the film’s acting performances, so I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be feeling. I mostly just guessed anger from the dialogue. I spent much of the film wondering why exactly they were so enraged before realizing toward the end that it’s mostly just a coming of age story. The kids are ticked off at authority. They feel oppressed by the current system with which they’re supposed to grow up and assimilate, so they’re frustrated and scared. They want to change it, but they can’t agree on exactly what changes are needed.

Overall that’s not so unrelatable. A lot of people- maybe even most- feel this way at some point in their lives. As such, this movie should resonate with everyone who walks into the theater.

But I just didn’t care. At no point did I, as the viewer, feel engaged by their apparent struggle. I watched Gilles move through Paris, where he lives, before traveling to other regions of France and finally Italy before he enrolls in the Academie des Beaux Arts. I watched the film and thought, “Well that was a pretty amazing summer. What’s your problem, kiddo?”

My housemate compared every character in the film to Holden Caulfield from “Catcher in the Rye.” They all reminded me of the characters from “Rent.” Each of them seemed to have a chip on their shoulders with mysterious and unknown origins that eventually replaced every thought they’d previously had with resentment.

Despite all this, despite everything, about 80% of the way through the film I felt something other than irritation.

Gilles was back in Paris after his summer shenanigans, talking with a girl he used to date, and I felt something toward him that even resembled affection. It was like he was my younger brother who I could barely stand because he does nothing but whine and bask in melancholia. But I loved him anyway because we grew up together.

The viewer watches Gilles grow up a little bit. Even if it’s more from the outside than from within his circle of friends, it’s still up there on the screen. He may learn how to navigate the world after all. As the viewer, I even felt a little bit proud of him.

“Something in the Air” began showing at the UICA on Friday, June 28 and will run through July 4.

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