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By Daniel Lammin
17th November 2013

So often, artists turn to themselves and their experiences for inspirations. Some of the greatest works of art in every medium have been born by its creator turning their eye back to the past and digging into their own stories. After creating a number of the most memorable international films of the past decade, French director Olivier Assayas has chosen to explore his early adulthood as a young political activist with ‘After May’, a film textured by romance of the past and an era of strong political ideals. The problem with using yourself for inspiration, however, is that sometimes it might not be that interesting a topic to everyone else.

It’s 1968, and France has been rocked by a number of significant protests from the younger generations against the state of the world around them. Gilles (Clement Metayer) is in his final years of high school, but that comes second to his political ideals and his need to retaliate. After a midnight act of vandalism at his high school, though, Gilles has to leave Paris with his friends until the consequences blow over.


There’s absolutely no doubt that, technically, ‘After May’ is a beautifully made film. The cinematography is gorgeous, shaded with that autumnal romance of looking at an old photograph, dripping with nostalgia. Assayas once again demonstrates how proficient an artist he is with the filmmaking tools at his disposal.

More’s the pity, then, that ‘After May’ is a maddeningly dull and completely lifeless film, populated by thoroughly unlikeable characters that move through a narrative told at a glacial pace, going absolutely nowhere. The time and place of the film is so rich with possibility, but any sense of characterisation is sacrificed for infuriating scenes of privileged rich kids sitting around smoking and sprouting political and pop philosophy. Their personalities are so empty, in fact, that you can’t even remember any of their names a minute later. This is a film populated by figures who speak of tremendous action but fail to act at all for the causes they believe in.

This could be the point, but there’s little to suggest that ‘After May’ is being ironic or critical. There’s such a sense of nostalgia and romance, as well as a complete absence of an alternative point of view, to suggest that we have satire here. There are also no consequences whatsoever for the illegal activities these young people undertake. The central conflict, the vandalism at the school, fades out into nothing, seemingly forgotten amidst airy teens sitting in gardens looking wistfully at each other. In fact, to say that ‘After May’ has a narrative is insulting to the idea. Nothing of any note actually happens after the first twenty minutes, and it becomes clear very quickly that you’re on a train to nowhere with this film, just a sepia-toned trip down memory lane, but someone else's memory rather than your own and one that has very little to do with you. The rhythm is laborious and agonising, and when it comes to an end with a final scene so totally incongruous you wonder what on earth it has to say about anything, you breathe a sigh of relief.

‘After May’ is a maddeningly dull and completely lifeless film.

Metayer is easy enough as Gilles with so very little to do, and Lola Creton is lovely as his on/off girlfriend Christine (the only character that seems to grow up), but everyone else is totally forgettable. Special mention must be made to India Menuez as American waif Leslie, a character who serves no purpose but to be wistful and annoying and a performance so utterly deplorable, she might as well be asleep.

If ‘After May’ is an attempt to capture some sort of romance about activism and political ideals in young people, it has failed miserably. If anything, it only makes them seem even more frustrating and idealistically empty. This is a film populated by pieces of cardboard pretending to be characters, people we spend two hours with but know nothing about, and a film that can’t even offer a reason as to why we sat there for two hours in the first place. I’m sure some will find wistful magic in this film, but for this viewer at least, ‘After May’ might be dullest film of the year.

RELEASE DATE: 21/11/2013
RUN TIME: 2h 2m
CAST: Clément Metayer - Gilles
Lola Créton - Christine
Carole Combes - Laure
DIRECTOR: Olivier Assayas
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