‘Something in the Air” is deceptively calm for a movie about the death of the ’60s. Even the English-language title — an oblique reference to a 1969 Thunderclap Newman hit that isn’t even heard on the soundtrack — gives nothing away. The original French title is more on target: “Apres Mai,” or After May. As in May 1968, when student protests boiled into the streets of Paris and the government nearly fell. In this context, “After May” refers to the early 1970s, when revolutionary ideals are still on everyone’s lips but the moment and the momentum have slipped away on a slow tide of drugs, self-absorption, and entropy.
Yet the movie’s anything but a downer. Instead, it’s a clear-eyed — if largely plot-free — memory play from writer-director Olivier Assayas, whose previous films have veered from the bizarre (“Demonlover,” “Boarding Gate”) to the poignant (“Summer Hours”). The year is 1971, and the director’s stand-in is Gilles (Clément Métayer), a lanky adolescent in his final days of high school. He’s a talented artist, but his energies when the film opens go almost completely into radical politics and raising the consciousness of any proletariat within earshot. He hawks leftist newspapers that his friends print in basements, tangles with riot police in the streets, goes to meetings where no one agrees on anything, and covers his school’s walls with graffiti and broadsides.