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Olivier Assayas: Revolution, Movies And Me

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May 1968 was a hotbed of revolutionary zeal in Europe, but in his brilliant new film Something In The Air, Olivier Assayas asks: what really happened next? LWLies met him.

Looking To My Past

"My first film about the '70s was Cold Water which I made in the '90s. So even then it took me a while to wrap my head around it. It’s been a while since I’ve wanted to make Something In The Air. But it was never the right time. The context was always wrong. It involves recreating the '70s: sets, costumes, lots of travelling and with no stars. It’s really a deadly mix. Luckily after Carlos I had this opening. I could make it happen."

My First Brush With Politics

"I was involved in high-school politics which had a connection with collective power. The Parisian riots in early 1971 were also very important to me. I knew that would be the starting point. I was 16. It was my last year in high school. It was some kind of high watermark in terms of teenage involvement in politics. It was something that wasn’t too manipulated. There was a general rebellion going on."

My Leftist Politics

"For me, as for everyone in my generation, political ideology comes very early. It comes in May '68. I was 13 years old, so I was too young to be part of it. I was living in the countryside. I had no physical connection to it. I was too far from Paris so I couldn’t go and see what was happening. I could see the scars. There was a sense of something happening. It had to do with politics. Grown ups were on strike. They seemed scared by what was going on. Impressed even. All of a sudden there were no trains. You couldn’t get gas for your car. Teachers weren’t coming to school. It was a sense of confusion. It was a historical event. Society was fragile. All of a sudden, what seemed quite structured around you was exposed as something that could fall apart."

My Favourite Films Of The '70s

"What meant the most to me was certainly post Easy Rider independent American filmmaking. The films of Bob Rafelson, Monte Hellman, Miloš Forman, all those hippy-influenced movies. Things like The Strawberry Statement and Medium Cool."

Why England Is Better Than France

"French cinema was very cut off from the counter-culture. Luckily, like a lot of French students, I would go to England, learn the language, study. I got in contact with whatever  was British underground culture: the music, the free press, the events. French leftism certainly made an impression on me: I mean I lived in the middle of it. Still, what I cared about had to do with the counter-culture. Everything French at the time seemed dull, archaic, from another era. Artistically and in terms of my inspiration, I was much more influenced by what I was seeing in England. Even in terms of music. It has stayed with me. I’ve always felt really cut off from the French tastes in music. When I go to a record shop in England, all of a sudden I feel home. When I go to a record shop in Paris, I see all the stuff I don’t listen to."

My First Experience Of Cinema

"We see the '70s as a war that was going on. It was exciting, but ultimately, society has not changed. I remember my experience of being third assistant editor on Superman in Pinewood Studios and walking around the set and seeing what was going on. It was moviemaking from another era. The film I’m actually referencing in Something In The Air was one by British director Kevin Connor. He was making these wonderful B-movies. They were very sweet. I liked them at the time, I don’t know whether I’d like them now. They were childish. They were cartoonish. It was difficult not to feel the tension. Gilles is trying to find his way in the cinema. He realises this is not for him. The film ends when he goes to the Electric Cinema in Notting Hill and sees an experimental film. This is the resurrection of his lost love. Maybe in small-scale independent experimental filmmaking there is something for me that holds the secrets between cinema and its relationship with reality."

Read the LWLies Recommends review of Something In The Air

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