Demise of Idealism:Two Worlds, Two Generations, Two Youths in the Films of Olivier Assayas and Harmony Korine

in 69th Venice Film Festival

by Barbara Hollender

In 2005, Olivier Assayas published a book titled ”Something in the Air”. His new film bears the same name. The action takes place in 1971 when Assayas was 16. As Assayas tells me during our conversation, “The protagonist of the film, Gilles, is me.”

The 1970s were a time of revolution for the younger brothers and sisters of the people who had written “It is forbidden to forbid” on the walls of Parisian universities in 1968. These young ones witnessed the defeat of their elder siblings, so in many cases they were much more radical.

“A revolutionary mood was dominant amongst French intellectual youth,” says Assayas. “We were dreaming about a better May ’68, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Paris Commune, we were mulling over differences between Leninism and Trotskyism. But first of all, we were looking for our place in the world.”

Gilles was the hero of one of Assayas’ earlier films, ”Cold Water” (1992). The film was a portrait of teenagers growing up in the 70s, in a scene of nighttime partying and joint-smoking. Today, Assayas says that the film shows a longing for freedom, but lacks politics. Therefore he resurrected Gilles. In ”Something in the Air” he tells a story of young people who started riots at a Parisian university. Subsequently, each character goes their own way. One person joins a radical organization; another is swallowed by the rat race. Gilles becomes an artist — like Assayas.

“Those were the times of idealism,” says the 57-year-old director, recalling his youth. When I ask him for his opinion on today’s youth, he says, “They have the same voraciousness for life and energy as we did. But their dreams — they are completely different. This is nothing unusual, because the world is different.”

American director Harmony Korine, well-known for his filmic experiments, also creates a portrait of today’s teenagers. In ”Spring Breakers”, four girls go on a spring holiday to Florida. They want to have fun. They have tiger-shaped rucksacks, colorful glasses, and occasionally call their mothers to tell them not to worry, but they are not children any more. They are very attractive — with their tight bikinis revealing shapely bodies, they belong to a culture of fun. They exude sex; they want to scream at the top of their lungs, dance on the beach, drink cold drinks, listen to music, smoke joints and have fun. This is life for them. When money runs out, they get in a car and, wearing balaclavas and brandishing water guns, they go to a roadside bar and steal a few banknotes and some small change from the customers — just like in the movies they watch. Later, when they have been arrested by the police during a drug party and are facing court charges, their bail is paid by a local drug dealer who draws them into his business.

Korine portrays a generation brought up watching colorful commercials and loud TV shows, who believe everything is possible. A generation for whom the only ideology is having fun: these young people are convinced that they have to be cool and that they must blend into the kitschy world of pop.

”Spring Breakers” is a film which sweeps viewers away with its mass of colors, music, lightness, fairytale kitsch and improbable energy. At the same time, Korine says something important about modern culture and our reality. Freedom in Assayas’ film is completely different from the freedom in Korine’s film. As Assayas says, “The world is different…”

Edited by Lesley Chow