Monday Movie: Late August, Early September, by David Bax
I first learned the name Olivier Assayas at the age of sixteen in the Winifred Moore Auditorium on the campus of Webster University outside St. Louis, MO. Being a mid-sized city, St. Louis had homes for higher profile, contemporary arthouse and foreign cinema with our two Landmark locations (including the historic Tivoli built in 1924) and some outliers like the wonderful Hi-Pointe (from 1922!) and the posh Chase Park Plaza. But Webster’s film program was geared toward more serious study of the art form and its history, as well as with scooping up newer films that hadn’t secured a St. Louis release. As such, I was introduced within that converted chapel to Pier Paolo Pasolini, Volker Schlöndorff, Shôhei Imamura, Patrice Chéreau and many more. All it took was my getting a driver’s license and a willingness to go to the movies alone. It was under these circumstances that I saw Assayas’ Late August, Early September.
A film that follows multiple, loosely connected characters over a given period of time – in this case, a group of friends and lovers falling into and out of relationships and pursuing careers – was nothing new to me at the time. I’d seen Dazed and Confused a dozen times already at least. But something about Assayas’ approach felt strikingly original to me. There’s a fluidity to the film, aided by the handheld camerawork of cinematographer Denis Lenoir, as well as a disregard for Aristotelian story structure that not only felt excitingly French to my young eyes but that also gave the film a broad philosophical scope. It was larger than the sum of its parts.
It’s not just Assayas that I discovered that evening in Webster Groves, MO. Virginie Ledoyen (at whom I would declare, “Hey, I know her!” shortly thereafter in The Beach) is in the cast, as is Mathieu Amalric, now a major French star. A teenage Mia Hansen-Løve also appears. Moreover, Webster University is where I discovered a large chunk of my identity as a cineaste. They’re still at it, by the way, with everything from The Passion of Joan of Arc to the recent, little-seen French Canadian love story Felix et Meira set to screen within the next few weeks. I tip my hat to places such as this one, that keep the lamp of cinema lit even for those outside the major cities.