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2013年3月27日 星期三

Something in the Air (Après Mai)(五月風,繼續吹)

For a whole generation of Frenchmen, May 1968 is the symbol of the struggle for freedom, self-realization, student rights,workers rights etc. It has now passed from history into legends and myths. In March, 1968, more than a hundred students, musicians and poets first occupied the Nanterre campus of University of Paris against bureaucratic control of the University's funding. The police were called in. The student leaders made certain declaration of what they thought was needed and left. The administration then held  disciplinary proceedings against those involved and threatened to expel them. After months of futile negotiations, on the 2nd May, 1968, the administration declared the University closed. This led to protests and demonstrations by the students at the U of Paris, Sorbonne. Again the police were called in.The students and workers joined hands at  at the Arc de Triomphe to
demand that  all criminal charges against arrested students be dropped,
the police quit occupation of the university and the authorities reopen
Nanterre and Sorbonne.The  Union Nationale des Étudiants de France (UNEF) then called for a general revolution and they were supported by disgruntled workers and by high school (lyseé) students and students at other universities all over France and also by leftist university lecturers and professors. Their call were answered by more than 11 million workers, about 2 thirds of the French working force. They held demonstrations for minimum wages and for massive increases in their pay and improvement of working conditions etc. More than a million people marched through the streets of Paris in protests. There were strikes all over France. The railways workers refused to run the trains. There were street battles with the police, armed with shields, wielding batons, firing teargas at the barricade creating and stone throwing car burning students and workers,but there were also agent provocateurs etc resulting in numerous injuries, arrests and prosecutions of hundreds of the protesters and demonstrators. The events were broadcast live on TV as they happened. The country was paralyzed for more than 2 weeks. Workers occupied some 50 factories and plants all over France including Sud Aviation and Renault plant. The demonstrations and strikes were spontaneous and not under the control of trade unions nor the organized socialists and communists which were inclined to  co-operate with the authorities. There were calls for widespread changes in the structure of French society. Prominent amongst them were the Maoists and Trotskyites. It was a time of confusion, of exploration, of hopes, of idealism.   But it was a failed revolution. General de Gaulle, the war time hero and President of France at the time, fled to a military base in Germany, then dissolved the French National Assembly and held general elections in June 1968 and the Gaullists came out stronger than before the "revolution". Even now many French intellectuals looked back upon that time of ferment, that atmosphere for change with nostalgia. My 19th film at the HKIFF is one of the delayed result of those events half a century after they happened. The French title of the movie "Après Mai" literally means "after May".

But the film by Oliver Assayas has a special angle. it follows the lives of two high school students about to graduate who wished to become artists, painters or film maker Alain (Felix Armand) Jean-Peare (Hugo Conzelmann), their free thinking girl friends Christine (Lola Créton), Laure (Carole Combes), Leslie (India Munuez)  and their revolutionary friends. We see their creativity, their enthusiasm for life, their uncertainties, their desire for change, their participation in spreading the message of reform, for "the struggle" against established values and established institutions and also some of their destructive activities, like bomb throwing at the head quarters of right wing political student organizations, their physical fights, the printing and distribution of revolutionary pamphlets, the speeches at workers meetings in France and Italy, the screening of Communist financed propaganda films about the success of the "revolution" in Laos etc, their free love, their smoking of opium, heroin etc. But revolution is not all idealism. They've got to decide what and where and how to work, to enter college or art school if they wish to become what they wanted to be, although they did not have any clear ideas about what that might mean.

What I like about this film is that the director does not have any explicit "message". He just shows us what it was like and how it felt to be living and experiencing all those confusing events happening at that time of change, of hope, of deep division at the heart of French society and the sense of urgency and exhilaration and even euphoria felt by the young and the radical elements of France at that time. The atmosphere was excellently captured. I like the way the camera follows the characters around as they move from one spot to another, continuously without break, as if the camera itself has become part of that youthful dynamism, that pulsating flow of life at that time of tentative exploration. of probing, of self- discovery and of the music which seem to fully reflect the ease,the fluidity, their dissatisfaction with the status quo, their hopes for change and the openness about what may happen.