Thursdays: Olivier Assayas

A Retrospective

Programmed by Edo Choi and Haley Markbreiter

Essay by Haley Markbreiter

We're pleased to present Chicago's first Assayas retrospective. Born in 1955, in Paris, Olivier Assayas was the son of writer/director Jacques Remy, and grew up helping his dad on shoots. When Remy's health began to fail, Assayas ghostwrote episodes of his father's TV show. Like Godard and Truffaut, Assayas got his training working as a critic for Cahiers du Cinema. He was one of the first writers to champion many of Hong Kong and Taiwan's "New Wave" film-makers including, most notably, Hou Hsiao-Hsien.

Assayas grew up under the shadow of the May 1968 riots, although he was too young to participate; still, the frustration (and pleasure) of youth rebellion would influence the rest of his work, as would the subsequent failure of the New center. Just look at Gilles and Christine's aimless, scared revolt in "Cold Water": they no longer feel like they can change anything. They can only run away. Punk rock and post-punk culture also permeate Assayas's work, from the Sonic Youth soundtracks featured in "demonlover" to an editing style that can jump from long, meditative takes to disjointed, energetic cutting.

For me, at least, Assayas' films stand out for their attempt, not just to confront and record the present, but to figure out what "the present" even means in a rapidly globalizing, increasingly mechanized, and increasingly impersonal world. These themes are present all across his work, from the cool, detached imagery of "demonlover" ь in which national corporations fight for control of a 3-D anime porn ь to "Les Destinees Sentimentales" ь where the dawn of mass production threatens a family porcelain business ь to "Summer Hours", which suggests that a connection to one's historical, national, and personal past is perhaps only available to those who can pay for it.

But, despite such a heavy-sounding introduction ь Assayas' movies are also just a lot of fun. "Clean" and "Irma Vep" star Maggie Cheung, while "Cold Water" features Virginie Ledoyen in her breakout role. And the party scene in "Summer Hours" will make you hate yourself for not being a French teenager (as if we all didn't already feel that way... )

Well ь enjoy.



2013-10-03 @ 7:00 PM

Summer Hours

(Olivier Assayas, 2008) · Three siblings must decide whether or not to sell the ancestral home after their mother's passing. Assayas' camera and narrative are always moving, keeping time with his global characters -- the eldest son in France, the daughter in New York, and the youngest son in China -- as they try to make sense of the changing modern world as it confronts the value of their memories. A film about the past, time and families, "Summer Hours" is a true masterpiece.

runtime: 103 min format: 35mm


2013-10-10 @ 7:00 PM

Cold Water

(Olivier Assayas, 1994) · For the project "Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge" in France in which each film's director set their work during the year of their sixteenth birthday, Assayas turned in his first masterpiece, a low-fi 16mm elegy in blue to his adolescence. The film tells the story of two teenagers, Gilles (Cyprien Fouquet) and Christine (Virginie Ledoyen), whose romance is as much the result of a shared opposition to authority as it is of mutual attraction.

runtime: 92 min format: 35mm


2013-10-17 @ 7:00 PM

Irma Vep

(Olivier Assayas, 1996) · An aging Nouvelle Vague director, played by Vague icon Jean-Pierre Léaud, attempts to remake Louis Feuillade's silent masterpiece "Les Vampires" by importing Hong Kong movie star Maggie Cheung to play the lead. As the production swiftly falls apart, Maggie endures a series of bizarre encounters with the neurotic westerners comprising its cast and crew. This surreal comedy about the global independent film industry became a surprising cult hit for Assayas.

runtime: 99 min format: 35mm


2013-10-24 @ 7:00 PM

Late August, Early September

(Olivier Assayas, 1998) · Adrien ь a sort of successful writer ь is sick. His friends don't know what's wrong with him. They have all lost their ideals a bit, and are deciding what to do next, as Adrien's illness quietly seeps into their lives. Assayas splits the film into chapters, using titles to denote plot points and time. Thus, freed from exposition or kitschy twists, he can build stories via faces, or a quick look. Stars 17-year old Mia Hansen-Love, Assayas' future wife.

runtime: 112 min format: 35mm


2013-10-31 @ 7:00 PM

Les Destinees Sentimentales

(Olivier Assayas, 2000) · Jean ь a Protestant minister ь divorces his obsessive wife to marry young, well-off Pauline (Isabelle Huppert). They live happily in Switzerland until Jean must take over the family porcelain business, becoming obsessed with porcelain even as it grows outmoded. Les Destinees Sentimentales spans the first half of the 20th century;;; but in lieu of narration or intertitles, Assayas has us tell time based on new furniture, aging faces, how the garden looks…

runtime: 180 min format: 35mm


2013-11-07 @ 7:00 PM


(Olivier Assayas, 2002) · Connie Nielsen is a corporate mole burrowed inside one media conglomerate at the behest of another. As both companies battle for control of a hentai studio, we lose all sense of what is real and what is image. Guy Debord, Marxist philosopher and intellectual influence on Assayas, once wrote: "All that was once directly lived has become mere representation." This is perhaps as lucid an explication of this hallucinatory cyber thriller as one could hope for.

runtime: 117 min format: 35mm


2013-11-14 @ 7:00 PM


(Olivier Assayas, 2004) · When Emily's rocker husband ODs, everyone thinks it's her fault. She is kicked out of the music world (and the middle class) and must struggle to find a job, reunite with her son, and get clean (which, despite the title, Assayas hardly shows -all we see is Emily, suddenly shaking, tossing methadrone pills out of a subway window). "Clean" opens with a series of gorgeous wide angle cityscape shots, and stars Maggie Cheung, Assayas' ex-wife.

runtime: 111 min format: 35mm


2013-11-21 @ 7:00 PM

HHH: A Portrait of Hou Hsiao-Hsien

(Olivier Assayas, 1999) ·

runtime: 91 min format: 35mm


2013-12-05 @ 7:00 PM


(Olivier Assayas, 2010) · Alongside works like Steven Soderbergh's "Che", this biopic of the celebrity terrorist Carlos the Jackal represents a new subgenre of period piece, one less concerned with crafting a conventionally linear melodrama than with, as film critic Adrian Martin has observed, "sticking, as far is possible, to the exact, wayward contours of the original events." It is also one of Assayas's finest achievements, a film of swift, breathtaking narrative pace.

runtime: 330 min format: 35mm


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