Paris in the early 70s. Gilles (Clement Metayer), a young high school student, is taken in by the political and creative turmoil of the times. Much like his friends, he is torn between his radical commitment and his personal ambitions. Through romantic encounters and artistic discoveries, Gilles and his friends' journeys take them to Italy and then London. Further down the line, they will have to make definitive choices in order to find their place in these turbulent times.
Review by Louise Keller:
Beautifully epitomising the era of the early 70s, Olivier Assayas's film is rich in mood, as it depicts idealism, impermanence, dreams and disillusions of a better world. Furthering the vision he created from his 1994 film Cold Water in which his central characters are also called Gilles and Christine, Assayas has created a film whose foundation and basis pivots on the political, with characters caught up in their beliefs of the radical left. The sense of place that he creates is both external and internal with the emphasis on the mood and the impetus that drives his characters to the crossroads, the quandaries they face and the choices they make.
While I recognise the truthful and splendid depiction, like the characters whose lives are depicted, I found the journey frustrating and difficult. Lacking a dramatic arc, the film meanders and rather than lures us emotionally; Assayas simply opens the door and allows us to follow his characters as they struggle as they weave their way along life's unpredictable path. I became restless.
The narrative begins in 1971 with a terrifyingly realistic violent demonstration by students who leave their classroom for the streets. The vandalism in the school premises late at night when graffiti is sprayed on the walls and posters pasted by Gilles (Clement Metayer) and his friends has consequences, resulting in a decision for all concerned to lie low during the summer holidays. By now, we have had a glimpse into Gilles' life and his relationships: the stars in his eyes relationship with lovely Laure (Carole Combes) followed by a more down-to-earth one with Christine (Lola Créton), who always feels second best. India Menuez as Leslie, a character Gilles meets along the way, is especially good. The core of Gilles' world is art and the scenes that depict him sketching, painting and talking about his art are some of the film's best. How strong are his political convictions and will his actions mirror his ideas?
The film branches out to encompass the directions and decisions taken by the various characters and how their passions and convictions impact. The depiction of the times is faithful to the letter with protest songs, hippy attitudes, drug-taking, nudity, 70s fashion, hairstyles and philosophical conversations. The passion of youth is portrayed with all its naivety and optimism. Eric Gautier's cinematography is superb and the lighting of some of the exterior scenes - shot in a forest or in a garden - has an ethereal quality. The performances are all excellent but it is the film's ambience and sense of place that is the film's greatest asset. After all, this is not a film in which the narrative provides the sizzle. It may be too arty for some as it depicts the crux of adolescence. But the quoted observation of French philosopher Blaise Pascal "Between us and heaven and hell there is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world", resonates.
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AFTER MAY (MA)
CAST: Clément Métayer, Lola Créton, Felix Armand, Carole Combes, India Menuez, Hugo Conzelmann, Mathias Renou, Léa Rougeron
PRODUCER: Charles Gillibert, Nathanaël Karmitz
DIRECTOR: Olivier Assayas
SCRIPT: Olivier Assayas
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eric Gautier
EDITOR: Luc Barnier
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: François-Renaud Labarthe
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 21, 2013