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June 28th, 2012 at 7:17 am

Olivier Assayas, 1968, and The Situationists

Olivier Assayas, A Post-May AdolescenceIn a Film Comment interview on the occasion of the release of his film Carlos, Olivier Assayas discussed some of the politics that shaped the film as well.

In particular, Assayas discusses how the Guy Debord and the Situationists affected his thought, a theme he develops even further in his recent book A Post-May Adolescence: Letter to Alice Debord.

In addressing a question regarding a political critique of Chris Marker’s film A Grin Without a Cat published in Cahiers du Cinema in 1976, Assayas, a frequent contributor to the magazine, responds:

The period of Cahiers that you’re referring to is the most political period of the magazine and I can’t say that I sympathized with their politics at that time. My brand of leftism was much more more connected to the ideas of the Situationist International and Guy Debord specifically, which constituted the framework of my politics. Also as a teenager, the huge influence was George Orwell. So I was extremely opposed to anything that smelled of totalitarianism and I think that the politics of Cahiers at that time were defined by the relationship to totalitarianism. When I started writing for the magazine it was at a moment when it was certainly more open and had moved away from those politics. Otherwise I don’t think I could have been involved.

Later in the interview, Assayas is asked about the legacy of 1968:

I was defined by the politics of May ′68, but for me May ′68 was an anti-totalitarian uprising. People seem to forget that at the occupied Odéon theater, you had the crossed flags—black and red, and I was on the side of the black element. And the red element was not that strong. People like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the Nanterre enragés—what was so striking, and so violent ultimately, about it was a way of regaining the idea of revolution from the bureaucrats of the Communist Party. The party was violently against ′68. They hated every minute of it and they killed it in the end. The reason why the uprising ended was because the unions, which were entirely controlled by the French Communist Party at the time, just decided that they didn’t want it to go on and they sent everybody back to work. But that wasn’t my side. I was defined by the idea that this insurrection could have worked, that it could have gone much further, and I was part of the leftists who never really forgave that betrayal. And for me the central element of May ′68 was the Situationist involvement, the committee of the occupation of the Sorbonne during the most radical and extremist days involved the Situationists. They were at the forefront.

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