Born in 68
Dir: Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau
Cert: 15 • Fr: 165 min • Peccadillo Pictures • DVD
The tone in Born in 68 is set instantly by the black and white documentary footage of students addressing their peers in protest against the French government. The bold red and white typeface used for the opening titles pays homage to the recognizable posters and slogans associated with the movement. The year is 1968, and the month is May. Students at the Sorbonne are out in force, listening to the film’s protagonists Yves (Yannick Renier) and Hervé (Yann Trégouët) mock the reports written about them in the national papers. “We’ll love each other till death do us part” a few supporters cry in solidarity. This chant will hold a great deal of poignancy later in the film.
The jubilation in the school corridors is short lived however as Catherine‘s (Laetitia Casta) backstreet abortion of Yves’s would-be first child, and the daily rioting and police clashes around the University in the following scenes, bring an abrupt end to the playfulness evident in those at the beginning. Disillusioned after failing to keep the workers strike going, the three friends, along with a small army, decide to escape the city, set up a commune and live the good life in a disused farmhouse in the countryside. By withdrawing and refusing to participate in a society they feel they’re unable to change from the inside, the group conclude that they’ll be more effective in fighting for the cause whilst operating on its fringes.
The initial excitement of living a revolutionary’s lifestyle in their man-made utopia soon gives way, and the tensions between the members begin to surface. “You’re not revolutionaries, you’re bums!” one woman blasts as she slams the door behind her. As the years pass by others follow as they pursue the ‘greener grass’ the city now seems to offer. Eventually the commune breaks up pretty much all together after Yves returns to the concrete he craves in city. Hervé also sets off, returning briefly years later before being captured by the police on murder charges. Only Catherine stays true to the ideals of the commune and remains with her two small children, Ludmilla and Boris.
It is here that the action fast-forwards two decades to the 1980s to see Ludmilla (Sabrina Seyvecou) and Boris (Théo Frilet) as fledgling adults. Growing up in a society where the social and political landscape has changed drastically, these products of free love don’t uphold their parents’ values and even go so far to openly reject them. The act of protest remains in Boris’ blood as he becomes increasing politicized after contracting HIV along with his boyfriend Christophe (Edouard Collin). Ludmilla on the other hand is more like her father Yves in her need for stability, structure and ‘concrete’; something she tries to maintain as her marriage to her Iranian husband disintegrates as she fights against his traditionalist values.
Spanning nearly forty years, Born in 68 provides snap shots into the lives of two very different generations. Although the heart of the film is firmly rooted in the 60s, this section is also the most confusing. The politics of those in the commune and ‘the cause’ that they are supposedly fighting for is never fully explained or developed. This is unfortunate because those who are not familiar with the history will inevitably become lost before the clan even reaches the commune. The ambiguity of understanding the social and political aims in the first section isn’t mirrored to the same degree in the second, and it is here that it becomes clearer what the ‘80s generation are actually fighting for. Boris’s protests, where we see him throwing blood balloons at glass windows and laying on roads with chalk outlines around him, provide some of the more interesting scenes. It is the segment in which Boris and Christophe tell their parents they are HIV positive that invoke genuine emotion in the viewer, and is arguably one of the best scenes in film.
The film is fortunate to have a strong cast, with Laetitia Casta giving a particularly good performance as Catherine. Despite the poor makeup, which more than fails in transforming her into an aged women, Casta still manages to pull off her older years gracefully and with conviction. The young Sabrina Seyvecou also gives a commendable performance as the independent and resentful Ludmilla. It’s a pity then that the audience rarely feels any connection to any of the cast, with the possible exemption of Catherine. The main reason for this is that the characters are introduced and then taken away far too soon before you’ve got the chance to really know them. This happens throughout the film, especially within the commune, and is in particularly true of the character Jerremie, a draft dodger and petty thief who plays a pivotal role in setting up the whole idea of retreating to the farmhouse in the countryside in the first place. He’s obviously been brought in as a means to move the narrative along, but he’s then taken away just as his character becomes interesting.
It is hard to say if Born in 68 wants to be taken seriously as a political film. Even if it does, its political and emotional punch is just too weak to really contend with the likes of The Battle of Algiers or even La Haine for that matter. However, Born in 68 is enjoyable and even though it runs for nearly 3 hours you don’t find yourself looking down at your watch wondering when it’s going to end. On the contrary, what was originally meant to be a 4 part television series has been somewhat successful in losing its ‘made for TV’ tag by being upgraded into a feature drama.