Late August, Early September

Dir: Olivier Assayas
1998
Late Autumn, Early September was such a realist followup to Olivier Assayas’s oddball and entrancing Irma Vep,
that it took me this long to getting round to watching it. But it’s has Irma Vep’s energy and comes alive onscreen in much the same way, that I realized that the director can handle both styles with aplomb. And for those who yearned for the experimentalism of Irma Vep, check out Demonlover.
Shot in grainy Super 16mm on handhelds, the film is a swirl of action and character, revolving around Adrien, a writer (Francois Cluzet), Gabrielle (Mathieu Amalric), his fan and sometimes assistant, Anne (Virginie Ledoyen), Gabrielle’s current lover, and Jenny (Jeanne Balibar), his former. Assayas drops in and out of the their lives over a period of about a year, with an elliptical method that makes us put together what’s happened in between. Adrien develops a serious illness but recovers, Gabrielle can’t seem to let Anne fully into his life, friends come together to help Adrian, and other events that don’t sound much on the page, but are fascinating to watch unfold. While Adrien sets the tone in an exchange on a train with Gabrielle (“I just turned 40 and I seem to be nowhere.”) it’s everybody who’s in transition, not quite rich, not quite poor, not fully in or out of love.
Late Autumn really points out how, when it comes to relationships, the French are on a different planet than the New Puritans. After Anne disappears from Gabrielle’s life for a while, she next see her enjoying a three-way between her workmate and an unknown man. An American film would have shown this excess as evil and an example of how far Anne had fallen. But Assayas treats it like a light afternoon daydream, scored with airy music. Anne and her workmate then have a conversation about how she still loves Gabrielle but still needs to explore her wider sexual needs. It’s all matter of fact. (By the way, Virginie Ledoyen is heart-stoppingly beautiful.)
Adrien keeps a young 15-year-old lover, the boyish Vera with her Jean Seberg-like hairdo. She’s treated fairly, not as some sign of Adrian’s prurience.
Lead actor Amalric has a frazzled intensity, and, like most of the cast, is very watchable and unpredictable. Nobody is cast into any type, and even though Jenny looks like she is going to be the “crazy ex,” she turns out to be stable as well. Maybe it’s me–maybe I’ve just been watching too much Hollywood.

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