Late in After May (Après Mai or Something in the Air elsewhere) one of its teenage protagonists is informed that the assault charges that had loomed over these young wannabe-revolutionaries have been dropped. You see, in an ill-advised protest, these leftist French students (in tumultuous 1971) seriously injured a security guard, causing them to spend their holidays in Italy on the ‘lam.’ Receiving this information, the youth shrugs; the prospect of going to jail apparently hadn’t particularly bothered him.
Much of After May is defined by the same kind of shrug; it is a gorgeous, ambitious film without a centre. Olivier Assayas renders the protests of the last half with a spiky restlessness and easy cool that evokes early Godard, then depicts the communes of Italy with a meditative calm and its wild parties with psychedelic vitality. It’s a film that strives to find meaning – in art, in politics, in sex, in film – but it doesn’t seem to feel for its characters, whose own search for purpose comes up empty-handed. Clément Métayer’s bland performance in the lead role doesn’t help. The narrative sees political passion traded for pragmatism and cool detachment; it’s disappointing that After May makes the same choices.