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Toronto: Olivier Assayas Discusses the Personal and Political Dimensions of 'Something in the Air'

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire September 16, 2012 at 1:03PM

Olivier Assayas discusses shifting gears after "Carlos" to direct the semi-autobiographical tale "Something in the Air."
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EK: Could your teen actors find any parallels in modern French politics?

OA: They don't trust politics. That's the difference. So they don't really understand. They are interested, they are curious, they want to learn, but they don't really relate to any serious politics because they are a generation that doesn't really believe in politics. But it's natural that they don't. How can you believe in politics in a world where politicians keep telling you that they can't do anything about anything? They can't do a thing about global warming, they can't do anything about the [financial] crisis, they can't do anything about the housing bubble -- I mean, you have that on TV all day a long. When you're a teenager, you listen to that. Well, how are you going to trust politics when those guys don't do a thing? How are you going to be able to do something yourself?

EK: Have you ever wanted to make a film that deals specifically with that juxtaposition between then and now?

OA: Well, I think that what I can share is my experience with the '70s because today, the few kids who have any kind of political hope tend to idealize the '70s, so this film is just intended to share my experience, to remind them that the '70s were great, but they were also very conflicted, they were complex, they were full of contradictions and they were certainly as dangerous or as difficult a time as any period since.
 
EK: The film ends with you -- or rather this character, your avatar - walking off the set of a B-movie and finding solace in experimental film. How did experimental film impact your view of cinema?

OA: As opposed to the global film industry, experimental film was in touch with the times. It was what young artists who were connected to whatever forces that were changing society at the time would be producing. So it was impossible at the time -- for good and bad reasons -- to identify with mainstream filmmaking in the same way that it was impossible to identify with mainstream TV or even newspapers. You know, you believe the values of the counterculture, you despise anything that was even remotely commercial, anything that had to do with exploitation, anything that had to do with profit, with evil. So the beauty of experimental film was that it was made with complete freedom, outside of the industry, by kids, by young men like yourself who had similar hopes and who somehow had a higher ideal.

As opposed to the global film industry, experimental film was in touch with the times.
EK: Then what made you return to narrative cinema for your own career?

OA: What brought me back to narrative cinema was my belief in representation. When so many would-be filmmakers of my generation went into narrative with these post-Godardian collages, for some reason it was difficult to express what it has to do with the moralities of the story. I believe in filming real life, filming real people, filming human textures with cinema. In the film, Gilles does not have his epiphany only watching an experimental film. He has an epiphany watching that cinema can create the resurrection of the woman he had loved and in that sense it's basic, it's not abstract, it's an emotion that has to do with the human side of the cinema, and with the presence of love on the screen. So I think my form of narration has only been to try to bring back the ghosts of love, instead of just to play with images.

EK: How do you feel about the comparisons that are being made between this film and "Cold Water," your 1994 film that takes place during the same period?

OA: "Cold Water" obviously deals with specific actors and specific times, but it's more abstract and more poetic about the period, whereas this film is more realistic, it has more historical sweep, but it's also more specific when, again, "Cold Water" was more like poetry.

EK: Based on the things I had read before going into it, it almost sounded like you had planned it as a companion piece.

OA: The way it started for me, it was like a companion piece, it was more or less the way I filmed it for myself. It gradually became something else. The process took me elsewhere.

EK: Do you feel like you've made enough political films for the time being?

OA: All movies are political in a way. I would love to do a movie about modern politics, instead of '70s politics, but at this stage, I don't know if I can do that. I don't have the open door or the key to get there, so the next film won't be political. Or maybe it will be, but in a very marginal way.

EK: So what's next?

OA: It's too early to really discuss it, but it's a movie I wrote with Juliette Binoche. We haven't worked together since we made "Summer Hours," and we wanted to somehow expand on what we did.

This article is related to: Toronto International Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, Olivier Assayas, Something In the Air






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