Yves, Hervé and Catherine are Paris students involved in the protests of May 1968. After the barricades come down and they fail to make links with workers, they establish a commune with friends amid beautiful countryside. Men and women are equal, all decisions are made collectively, everyone shares one big bedroom and they dance naked in the fields.
This “revolutionary lifestyle” does little to change society: it’s politically vague and slightly self-indulgent. No one refers to the huge general strike that has just taken place. But the commune is still appealing, full of youthful innocence, goodwill and hope for a better world. They gradually gain the respect and friendship of the locals, and make a living producing goats’ cheese. They try to radicalise workers in nearby towns, and stage sit-down protests for abortion rights.
The revolutionary wave ebbs and the commune declines. Many leave – Yves returns to Paris to teach, while Hervé turns to terrorism. By 1981 only Catherine, by now the mother of two children with Russian names, remains committed to the dream.
The film then skips to 1989 – Catherine’s children are now young adults. Ludmilla has rejected her mother’s politics and is a well paid IT entrepreneur with plans to marry. Boris is gay and a lawyer. He and his boyfriend are HIV positive, and Boris organises protests demanding better treatment for people with Aids.
The action is set mostly in Paris, with occasional trips to the countryside, and you realise how solidly bourgeois the characters are. This half of the film is more political – we’re presented with a potted history of France from 1989 to 2002, including presidential elections and struggles around Aids and migrants. But it’s much less enjoyable than the first half, because the treatment of politics and history is shallow and formulaic. The election of a right wing president, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the growth of the internet each zip by, shown on a TV in the corner of a room, or briefly commented on by the well informed and articulate family.
The film loses its way. It raises many issues but, though it lasts almost three hours, it never examines any of them properly. What difference did 1968 really make? Were changes in attitudes to sexuality the most enduring thing? How does Boris’s political activism compare with that of his parents’ generation? The film’s heart is in the right place. But it’s not the major assessment of the impact of 1968 that it sets out to be.
When we opposed the National Front
An imagined revolt in Port Talbot