Promising a cinematic celebration of 40 years of riots and struggle, Born in ’68 manages only a pale reflection, says Jacqui Freeman
The opening scenes of this film capture the excitement of May 1968. Students are in occupation at Nanterre University and in the barricaded streets of Paris activists dodge tear gas and riot police. A new generation are convinced that they can change the world.
Focusing on a group of friends – Catherine, Yves, Herve, Caroline and Michel – the film explores the personal changes that 1968 initiates. So when Jeremie, a draft dodger, suggests setting up a commune in the south west of France, they see an opportunity to put their ideals into practice.
As Catherine says, “We live together, we work together and we reinvent the world together.” This was a belief held by many Maoist-inspired students.
But the ideal soon begins to disintegrate as personal rivalries and practicalities intrude. Herve leaves to return to the struggle because, as he rightly notes, “I feel as though we’ve become inward looking and the suffering continues without us.”
There are glimpses of the real world. But overall, the issues covered are treated in a superficial way.
Ludmilla, Yves and Catherine’s eldest daughter, aspires to a conventional marriage in anger at her mother’s belief in free love. Boris, their younger son, joins with his neighbour Christophe to become a gay rights activist.
The gay liberation movement is seen as the most important offspring of the ideals of ’68, and there are only passing references to the other major political events during the last 40 years.
We see joy at the election of a Socialist Party president in 1981, anger at a right wing victory in 1995 and despair when the fascist Le Pen reaches the second round of the elections in 2002.
But the riots and mass strikes don’t get a look in. Even the huge anti-capitalist protests in Larzac, which is very near the farmhouse commune are missing.
Ultimately the film’s message is a pessimistic one. Michel commits suicide, Christophe dies of Aids and Catherine dies of cancer.
While the closing shot of a small group protesting at Sarkozy’s victory is a rare moment of optimism, a film about the legacy of 1968 in France could have shown us so much more.
Born in ’68 is directed by Oliver Ducastel and Jacques Martineau. In cinemas from Friday 25 September