Born in 68
Nes en 68

Strand Releasing,

Olivier Ducastel,
Jacques Martineau

Catherine Corsini

Laetitia Casta,
Yannick Renier, Yann Tregouet, Christine Citti, Marc Citti, Theo Frilet, Edouard Collin, Gaetan Gallier

Unrated, 166 minutes

Children Of The Revolution
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, September 2009

Born in 68, a film by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, looks at two generations of revolutionaries. The action begins in May of 1968 when strikes and student riots exploded throughout France, almost precipitating the unpopular government's collapse. Three students, Catherine and the two men she loves, scream slogans and hide from the police as their campus falls under siege. Two decades later, one of the children from this revolution comes out as a gay man and carries on the traditions of his parents when he protests with ACT-UP.

The early scenes introduce the Marxist triangle between Catherine (Laetitia Casta), Ives (Yannick Renier) and Herve (Yann Tregouet). They are students at the Sorbonne, protesting a Fascist government and advocating its overthrow. They are young, passionate, and extremely naive. Picture the cast from one of Godard's 1960s agitprop polemics, except better looking. Disillusioned when the strikes end (and de Gaulle is still in power), these lovable anarchists decide to make another revolution of their own by founding a commune on an abandoned country farm.

An ecstatic period of free love ensues as these idealists reject bourgeois society and drop out from the human race. They think they've found utopia. Catherine is their earth mother and proclaims equality between the sexes. Other comrades chime in, one by one: no more boss, no more class system, no more morality, no more taboos, no more laws. (No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks?) Paradise will, inevitably, be lost. Frictions splinter the large group until, one by one, each returns to civilization. "You're not revolutionaries, you're bums!" one screams as she leaves. Herve departs to be an agitator again and is soon arrested on political charges. Others spread propaganda in factories but are ultimately more concerned with shagging the women who work there. Ives finally leaves too ("I want concrete!") and Catherine stays behind at the farm with the two children they bore together, Ludmilla and Boris.

Most of the film's second half is set in the 1980s and the children have grown to adulthood. Boris (Theo Frilet), diagnosed with HIV, is angry and joins ACT-UP. His sister, Ludmilla (Sabrina Seyvecou), is too independent to remain in a traditionalist marriage to an Iranian expatriate. Both children rebel against convention while, at the same time, openly rejecting their parents' revolutionist values and notions of free love.

Born in 68 features an ensemble of colorful characters set against a vast political canvas. The cast keeps things interesting but I have to confess to being totally lost in the film's politics. Not being from France, or a student of its recent history, I didn't have a clue what exactly our young anarchists were fighting for, what they later pined after - or what their children blame them for either. Presumably, this might be obvious to French filmgoers. Events such as the election of Mitterand, or the fall of Communism, are referenced to establish the passage of time, and you either get the historical references or you don't.
However, despite my ignorance, I was still entertained. Born in 68 is a terrific generational soap opera with more than its share of drama. There isn't much tension between Ives and Herve over Catherine's affections (in fact all three remain lifelong friends despite living in different worlds) but there is plenty of conflict elsewhere as the film progresses. Herve's run-ins with the authorities supply a bit of action at the midpoint. Catherine's best friends, on a nearby farm, disapprove of their son Christophe's sexual relationship with Boris and there is tragedy when both boys come home from school with the news that they are HIV positive. Boris' sister, Ludmilla, confronts her fiancee to see if he slept with her mother when he lived for a time on the farm. Life in the city is contrasted with the simple life that Catherine continues to live, as an aging hippie, on the farm.
The free love element might be Bertolucci-lite (see the famed director's 2003 The Dreamers for an explicit menage between a young woman and two men during May, 1968) but it's still pretty sexy. The founding of the commune seems to be the heart of the movie and the filmmakers offer idyllic photography of naked bacchanals in the fields. Penises wag for the camera as well as breasts. Yet despite all this "love the one you're with" mentality, we never see two men getting it on at the commune. Of course two women do it (and then Ives joins in). Gay sex isn't forgotten though, part two includes several love scenes between Boris and his partners.
It's hard to completely fall in love with these characters as each seems designed primarily to represent a particular political point of view. Even so, the cast does a nice job. The make-up that ages them is mostly convincing but they should have all looked much older at the film's conclusion. Despite its 166 minute length, their stories remain engaging - even if the film would benefit from a return to the editing room. Sections could use some trimming; a few less songs at the commune for starters. On the other hand, the film gets choppier as it progresses and a little less shorthand regarding the background politics would have gone a long way towards explaining the cast's motivations.

It has been said that May of '68 was a turning point in French politics and the film seems to agree with that viewpoint. The protests almost brought the country to its knees but then, paradoxically, de Gaulle's government emerged stronger than ever. And so the film is also critical and, by airing opposing views through the children, suggests that the central triad's revolution was a failure. Born in 68 seems to want it both ways but, again, it was a complicated situation and the filmmakers' thesis probably resonates far more in France than it does here. This is an ambitious film and, while it may not achieve all of its aims, it is an entertaining ride nonetheless.