Youth, art and politics-the cinema of Olivier Assayas
The works of Olivier Assayas-not very well known in Poland-offer a showcase of all the best aspects of French cinema. His films deftly combine autobiographical candor, intellectual depth and a humorous levity. Although Assayas is an eclectic artist-his films cover a range of genres, from dramas to comedies all the way to thrillers-he is able to able to imprint his own unique stamp on everything he does. He has earned his reputation as an auteur and as one of the most important successors to the ideas of the French New Wave.
Assayas has his father to thank for introducing him to the art of film. Raymond Assayas, who went by the name Jacques Rémy, was a screenwriter who collaborated with artists such as Roger Vadim, Christian-Jaque and René Clément. It was at his father's side that the younger Assayas took his first steps in the industry. When Rémy's health deteriorated while working on a TV series about Chief Inspector Jules Maigret, he suggested that his teenage son ghostwrite the scripts for several episodes. A little while later, Assayas began making his first short amateur films. At the same time-following the example of many other luminaries of French cinema-he launched his career as a film critic, writing for the famous Cahiers du cinéma. In addition to analyzing the work of his favorite European filmmakers, the future director also became one of the first critics to focus his attention on the phenomenon of Asian cinema. It is worth noting that Assayas continued writing after he had become a well-known director. In 1990, for example, having already made two full-length films, he published a collection of conversations with Ingmar Bergman.
Assayas was well aware that his place was primarily behind the camera. Barely 30, he made his feature debut with Disorder (1986). Looking back from our current perspective, the film, which focuses on a group of post-punk musicians, can be seen as an invaluable monument to the era. But Disorder's true value can be found in something else: Assayas was able to express for the first time his fascination with youth-a theme that he would come back to again and again in his later work. Unlike many directors, he never idealizes youth. Instead, he prefers to emphasize the ambivalence in the actions of his teenage protagonists. The young musicians from Disorder make an impression with their intransigence and rebellious energy; on the other hand, it is these same features that lead them down the path of self-destruction.
We see a similarly ambiguous image of youth in Something in the Air (2012), a film made at a much later stage of his career. The director shows us the dilemmas facing the protagonists, who grew up during a time of political fever at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s. Instead of telling another nostalgic tale of youthful enthusiasm, Assayas takes a much broader look at his protagonists in this masterful portrayal of their doubts and uncertainty.
Escaping the spectacle
A young man named Gilles, who is trying to reconcile his political commitment with his dream of becoming an artist, experiences a particularly intense internal conflict in Something in the Air. During his own turbulent youth, Assayas experienced a similar dilemma. In the end, the director stood on the side of art, but he stresses his fidelity to the ideals of May '68 at every step. One thinker who has had a particularly strong influence on Assayas is the French philosopher Guy Debord. Looking back now, we can easily see the influence that the author of The Society of the Spectacle had on many of the director's films. Following Debord's lead, Assayas laments the superficiality, ostentation and commercialization of contemporary society.
In films such as Sils Maria and his latest, Non-Fiction, Assayas emphasizes the fact that the art community is also no stranger to these problems. In this respect, the most interesting film in the French director's entire oeuvre is Irma Vep. In this self-referential satire, Assayas shows a world in which an acclaimed director suffers from such a lack of creativity that he decides to remake a classic film from 1913. As if that weren't enough, he also comes up with the absurd idea-wanting to take advantage of the popularity of Asian cinema at the time-of casting a star from Hong Kong to play the lead role.
Even under these circumstances, the director of Disorder-to this day being an avid cinephile-ultimately gives in to his faith in power of cinema. In the most beautiful scene in Irma Vep, which is emblematic of Assayas's entire oeuvre, actress Maggie Cheung leaves the set after yet another hopeless day. Still in costume, she is struck by an impulse to pull off an audacious hotel robbery. The hypnotic sequence, played out to a soundtrack by Sonic Youth, shows that the beauty of art can be emerge in passing, when we least expect it. Assayas's films are full of similar epiphanies: one of the greatest pleasures in getting to know the French director's work is that they can appear in completely different places for everyone.
Olivier Assayas was born in Paris in 1955. A son of director Jacques Rémy, he gained initial film experience by working at his side. He graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Paris, and in 1979 he made a debut with a short film Copyright. In his writings for Cahiers du cinémahe was one of the first European film critics to observe the birth of Asian cinema. Co-writer of the book Conversations avec Bergman. Collaborated with André Téchiné. His feature debut ( Désordre, 1986) brought him the Critics Award in Venice. In 1992, he made well-received Paris Awakens, yet the breakthrough productions were Cold Water (1994) and Irma Vep (1996). He has been nominated several times for the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival - for Sentimental Destinies (2000), Demonlover (2002) and Clean (2004). He garnered fame with his 2010 film Carlos, a multi-award-winning mini-series about Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the terrorist better known as Carlos the Jackal.
1979 Copyright (kr.m./short)
1986 Bezład / Désordre / Disorder
1989 Zimowe dziecko / L'enfant de l'hiver / Winter's Child
1991 Paryż się budzi / Paris s'éveille / Paris Awakens
1993 Nowe życie / Une nouvelle vie / A New Life
1994 Zimna woda / L’eau froide / Cold Water
1996 Irma Vep
1998 Koniec sierpnia, początek września / Fin août, début septembre / Late August, Early September
2000 Ścieżki uczuć / Les destinées sentimentales / Sentimental Destinies
2004 Czysta / Clean
2006 Zakochany Paryż (segment Quartier des Enfants Rouges) / Paris, je t'aime / Paris, I Love You
2007 Przejście / Boarding Gate
2007 Kocham kino (segment Recrudescence) / Chacun son cinéma ou Ce petit coup au coeur quand la lumière s'éteint et que le film commence / To Each His Own Cinema
2008 Pewnego lata / L’Heure d’été / Summer Hours
2012 Po maju / Après mai / Something in the Air
2014 Sils Maria
2016 Stylistka / Personal Shopper
2018 Doubles vies / Non-Fiction
Partner: Institut Français, Pologne