Something in the Air (**)
Just like its title suggests, Olivier Assaya’s Something in the Air has “something” to it, but whatever that may be is buried deep underneath a disjointed narrative and a stale protagonist. Set in the tumultuous 1970s, when France was experiencing their own mini-era of liberation alongside the rest of the anarchical world, a young French high school student attempts to figure out his place amidst the chaos. Does Gilles follow his peers and join their militant efforts to protest the heavily conservative establishment? Or, instead, does he follow his own dreams of becoming an artist, revolutionary duties thrown into the wind? The choice is a difficult one, and it would have been nice to see some form of expression from lead actor Clement Metayer, who simply goes through the motions a bit too ordinarily for the cinematic experience. I wonder if Assaya was so in love with the idea of casting a first-time actor — untamed by any sort of style — that he ignored his responsibilities as a director to guide Metayer into spewing forth a tangible emotion an audience member could easily latch onto. When a performance loses its transcendental power, the narrative they carry on their shoulders falls by the wayside.
The editing in Something in the Air is also rather sloppy. Instead of seamlessly cutting between scenes to allow the narrative to expand in a comprehensive manner, Assaya chops up his film like a unshuffled deck of cards — it makes for a rather drab experience, with some scenes extending past their point of interest, while others are hardly given any introspection. I appreciate style and a clear artistic voice, but style for style’s stake is a bit pretentious, especially if your premise is centered around one character living through this rocky time period. There are moments in the film when Gilles is ignored for attention-grabby shots. Assaya does, however, establish a believable setting of liberalism on the violent rise, with the world’s youth leading the charge. It’s quite telling how in this time period some of the youth became revolutionary addicts, so utterly involved in protest or violent disruption that they forgot the cause they were fighting for. Whether intentional or not, most of the kids shown in the film aren’t likable and have very little motivation to rebel other than for rebellion’s sake. During this time, those who weren’t youth activists where shunned by their generation, which brings us to why Gilles was hesitant to ditch his friends for so long.
There’s a silver lining to Assaya’s film, and it’s the casual and breezy way he approaches sexuality. He never explicitly depicts teenage coitus, but there’s a normalcy to the nude body in the film that authentically aligns with the period’s sexual freedom. In all, Something in the Air has great ideas at its disposal, not to mention a terrific moment in time where youth uprising can be explored to great detail, but the poor film technique and insipid lead performance distracts greatly from what may be onscreen but is rendered invisible.
Laurence Anyways (***½)
Our very own Daniel Ashtiany saw this first at the London Film Festival, and gave it a rare (****) rating. Naturally, I had to see what all the fuss was about. While Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways is a hair or two away from perfection, there is an abundance of greatness throughout that will often leave your jaw hanging by a thread of flesh. How Dolan’s high art masterpiece was passed over for Canada’s “Best Foreign Language” entry is beyond me. All I can say is that those who say the year is weak for female performances need to hush up, because Suzanne Clément will eat their words and then stomp on their faces with her beyond-spectacular performance in this film. Clément plays Frederique, a woman whose life flips upside-down after her boyfriend, Laurence (Melvil Poupaud), drops a life-altering bombshell on her: he’s a woman trapped in a man’s body and wants her support while he makes the he-to-she transition. At first, Fred unleashes her rancor on Laurence, her low self-esteem the cause of such anger. The two are already misfits in society because of their artistic ambitions: Laurence is a teacher with aspirations to become a poet and novelist, and Fred is television commercial director who wants to make the jump to feature films. The couple have this “best friend” dynamic in which they create their own idioms and inside jokes, thereby separating themselves from the pretentiousness of high society. What’s ironic is that for how much the two gripe about society, especially Fred, she instantly is fearful of becoming ostracized completely due to Laurence’s new mode of existence. It proves too overwhelming for Frederique to handle, even though she copes for quite awhile with a defensive shield at the ready.
As Daniel will most likely attest, the most profound moment in the film occurs at a diner restaurant. What makes the scene so authentic is that you feel your blood rise as the waitress pesters Laurence about his new female attire. As an audience member, you want to shout and scream at the waitress for her cruel-intentioned questions and complete ignorance, but then Fred does it for you and you sit in utter disbelief, thinking: “Is this really happening?” Suzanne Clément delivers the best female performance of the entire year (unarguable, sorry) in this very scene, so vehemently channeled that it will arouse a great feeling of pride — pride for the acting and pride for Dolan’s emancipatory writing. Some will argue that this powerful segment is the peak of the film, with the remaining 110 minutes unable to come close to such magnitude. I would say that Laurence Anyways continuously maintains a balance of visual splendor and observant storytelling from start to finish.
My only criticism of the doomed love story is that the chemistry between Fred and Laurence isn’t as strong as it should be. I’d like to know why Dolan didn’t include scenes of love-making in the film. His style is so viscerally explicit, but never ventures into sexual territory, which is the consummation of true love between two individuals. It is hinted that they have a strong sexual relationship, but we never see proof of it. As strange as that may sound, that lack of physical chemistry diminishes the believability of their overall romance. I actually feel the two work best as platonic friends. Frederique has a deep love for Laurence, but that may be difficult for the audience to understand without seeing them interact in R-rated fashion. The other minor quibble is that the scenes between Laurence and his mother seem unnatural, almost phony. His mother makes these zingers that don’t accurately summarize the awkward tension that should be there between Laurence and his immediate family. That dynamic and relationship was the glaring fault for me in the film.
Even with such minor issues, Laurence Anyways is an astounding film that will leave you ambivalent towards its characters. They aren’t always easy to like or pin down, but that’s what makes them all the more special and real. Society is the villain in Laurence Anyways, one which causes two lovers, who nearly had it all, to potentially separate off for good. The music in Laurence Anyways is also as elating as last year’s Drive, completely soaking your emotions in places where the unreal and real coalesce. At only 23-years old, born on March 20, 1989, Director Xavier Dolan is literally three days younger than me. How he can produce a film that measures up to the likes of Terrence Malick and Jane Campion, I have no idea. All I know is that for any young aspiring filmmaker, someone like him gives you the hope and the drive to be just as prodigally talented. Laurence Anyways is astonishing, always.