Late August, Early September (Fin Aout, Debut Septembre)

on September 14, 1998 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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   Olivier Assayas does it again, following up his delightful "Irma Vep" with a much more serious but equally adept film--one that should confirm him at the forefront of French filmmakers.
   Spanning 16 months and divided into six chapters, "Late August, Early September" eavesdrops on the fragmented lives of a group of mostly artistic Parisians whose beliefs and feelings are tested when one of them, writer Adrien Willer (Francois Cluzet), becomes seriously ill.
   The beauty of Assayas' films is that they are completely unsentimental and refuse to wrap anything up neatly. So the tumultuous relationship between the emotionally adrift Gabriel (Mathieu Amalric) and his vivacious, strong-willed girlfriend Anne (Virginie Ledoyen, who also starred in Assayas' "Cold Water") undergoes changes but is by no means resolved one way or another. Gabriel's rapport with ex-girlfriend Jenny (Jeanne Balibar) is similarly opaque and refreshingly adult. And Adrien's love affair with a 16-year-old, Vera (Mia Hansen-Love), whom none of his friends know about, is depicted without any salaciousness or exploitation. It's actually the most touching romance in the film.
   More than most filmmakers, Assayas understands that friendships and sexual relationships are based as much on unresolved tensions and unexpressed feelings as they are on spoken words and deeds. His penchant for extreme close-ups, matter-of-fact presentation of scenes and simple breakdown of events and timeframes add up to a wide-ranging portrait of French life today, laced with disquieting undercurrents of economic dislocation and spiritual emptiness.    Starring Mathieu Amalric, Francois Cluzet and Virginie Ledoyen. Directed and written by Olivier Assayas. Produced by Georges Benayoun, Philippe Carcassone and Francois Guglielmi. A Zeitgeist release. Not yet rated. Running time: 112 min.
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