Late August, Early September

Director: Olivier Assayas

As the recent retrospective of his work at the Dublin Film Festival demonstrated, Olivier Assayas is one of the most interesting figures in current French cinema. His only film to receive any kind of release here was the delightful Irma Vep, which transported Hong Kong action star Maggie Cheung to the chaos of low-budget film-making in Paris under the direction of neurotic auteur Jean-Pierre Leaud. A critic as well as a filmmaker, Assayas’s tastes embrace a wide range of cinema, but his new work is very much in the French tradition and is by far his most accessible to date. Late August, Early September presents a kaleidoscopic portrait of the shifting relationships between a group of Parisians over a twelve-month period. Struggling publishing editor Gabriel (Mathieu Amalric) splits up his long-time girlfriend Jenny (a delightfully loopy Jeanne Balibar) and hesitantly takes up with the highly-sexed anne (Virginie Ledoyen, who’s heded for major stardom with her role in the forthcoming The Beach). Gabriel’s friend Adrien (Francois Cluzet) is a talented but insecure writer who’s having an affair with a 15-year-old girl. The reappearance of an old illness forces Adrien to come to terms with his mortality and acts as a catalyst in the changing relationship between his friends.
This is familiar material for a French film, but Assayas has come up with a novel approach that goes beyond traditional dramatic storytelling. Late August, Early September is composed of a series of seemingly isolated sequences, each of which provides a different perspective on the characters and their relationships. Assayas says that his aim was to gather moments together that, taken as a whole, complement each other, expanding and intensifying each other to give an impression of our experiences of the world. That may sound vague, but the film itself succeeds in capturing a strong sense of lives being lived and characters being transformed by the exigencies of human existence. Assayas’s most mature and affecting work to date, this marvellous movie has attractive performances from a large ensemble cast and a fluid camera style that makes the hyper-realism of much recent French cinema look more naive than life-like.

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