Assayas, in fact, has produced a film that is really about his own experience as a young radical of that era. His counterparts enthusiastically start by giving out leaflets for meaningless demonstrations, and quickly graduate to vandalism and Molotov cocktails, one of which harms a school guard and ruins his life. Later they join their comrades in violent street demonstrations against the police, who, since 1968, were an ubiquitous presence in the streets of Paris each summer, vigilant against any repeat of the events that almost led to the collapse of Charles de Gaulle’s government a few years earlier.
Indeed, that very summer I was in Paris, and recall the police with sub-machine guns throughout the city. Once I was stopped in a car and asked for my passport, as the police, viewing a car with a few young men in it, decided to check us out and not take any chances. The graffiti on buildings and the revolutionary slogans and signs still had not all been taken down, and the whiff of revolution was still in the air, just as Assayas portrays it.
An American New Leftist, Leslie played by India Salvor Menuez who reminds one of a young Julianne Moore, captures the revolutionary posturing of a young American taking time off to live the counter-cultural and revolutionary dream in Europe. Leslie becomes the lover of an artistic French revolutionary, traveling with him to Nepal, where she and others live the adventurous life of smoking dope, having sex, and regularly getting stoned. As summer comes to an end, she has an abortion, abandons the revolution, and returns home to New York where she will finish her studies at Juilliard and ready herself for a career in dance. Ever the pragmatist, she makes a classic American conclusion. She realizes that the hopes and dreams of her New Left summer friends would lead nowhere, and she chooses reality after a summer’s fling.