When Revolution was in the Air: A Fine Movie about the 60's New Left
The movie is in many ways a critique of France’s once most highly regarded leftist filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard, who made many pretentious and preening leftist screeds in that very era. Indeed, we meet a Godard-like filmmaker devoted to chronicling the revolution and spouting its message, as well as radical film collectives that screen horrendous didactic and boring documentaries for small leftist audiences, meant to encourage them to keep “making the revolution.” (The films they watch, as we learn in the end credits, were in fact real leftist documentaries of that era.) Many of them tout the “victories” of Third World revolutionaries that we now know turned out to be failures or led to new totalitarian regimes like that of Pol Pot’s Cambodia. The viewer is well aware that Pol Pot himself learned his Marxism-Leninism while studying at the Sorbonne. Similarly, we see Gilles’ high school class as his politics teacher instructs the class in the intricate dialectics of Marxism, asking the class to explain why Marx and Engels rejected the “revisionists” of their theory.
The documentary they watch takes place in Florence, and was a real film about Laos, in which the peasant army is shown marching to victory. Gilles and Christine watch the screening and the discussion afterwards, as revolutionary Italians mock the director’s leftist credentials. The dialogue of these revolutionaries is at the same time hilarious, arcane, arrogant and sad. “Shouldn’t revolutionary cinema employ revolutionary syntax?” asks one communist audience member. The director answers: “Such a style would be a shock to the proletariat. Our role is to enlighten them.” The audience member has an answer. Wasn’t the filmmaker in fact revealing an “individualist style of the petit bourgeoisie?” The director has yet another answer: “You can’t make entertainment in revolutionary times.” Gilles has a more accurate thought, which he boldly tells the others with him. They are all “boring films” with “primitive politics.”