Frameline 33 :: Born in ’68
At almost three hours, Born in 68 is an epic. It has to be: it covers four decades in the lives of several student radicals who form a commune amidst pot smoke and flowers, then strike out in different directions.
The story crosses nation, generations, and class lines, but much of it focuses on Catherine (Laetitia Casta), the commune's last holdout, who through sheer strength of will keeps her farm going decade after decade.
Yves (Yannick Renier) is the father of Catherine's children, but the two live entirely separate lives, and it seems that's how Catherine prefers it. She doesn't want any part of marriage; she'd rather be the one calling the shots, having no patience for the role of housewife.
Catherine's daughter, Ludmilla (Sabrina Seyvecou) embraces opposite ideologies, throwing herself into marriage and fidelity with a young Iranian named Farivar (Slimane Yefsah) but she's more like her mother than she counts on, and resents Farivar's assumptions that he will be the dominant partner in their marriage.
Meantime, Catherine's son, Boris (Th?o Frilet) grows up to be a free spirit, and a gay one at that: he and Christophe (Edouard Collin), the son of local farmers who have long befriended Catherine and the commune's forever-rotating population, have grown up together and, together, face the onset of AIDS, with Boris turning to activism to, as he sees it, defend his life.
In his activism, Boris echoes the militant reformism of Herv? (Yann Tr?gou?t), Catherine's other lover from her younger days. Herv? spends decades in prison following the killing of a police officer; he embodies the male propensity for restlessness and force, whereas Catherine, the farmer, stays put even when others grow weary of the hard work of nurturing the soil's yield.
The movie, for its length, scarcely finds time for some of its subplots; Ludmilla and Farivar's martial discord is dealt with and almost dispensed with in a series of brief but potent scenes. Characters come and go, drop out of sight and then resurface; years flash by and with them, landmark points in history (Mitterand is elected, the Berlin wall comes down, Mitterand loses to Chirac).
Screenwriter Catherine Corsini (aided and abetted by Olivier Ducastel, Guillaume Le Touze, Jacques Martineau) has done an admirable job at compressing such a great span of time into a few hours, telling the story in bold strokes while keeping track of the most crucial details, even though sometimes one might wish for a few details more. One character commits suicide--or was it an accident? We're given just enough to make our own assumptions, but there's clearly more to the story.
The writers handle Boris and Christophe with skill and sensitivity, noting (but not dwelling upon) the tension between the younger generation of gay offspring and their parents' uncertainties; even the formerly sexually liberated Yves, it's implied, has a hard time with his son loving other men.
Driectors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau keep a steady grip on material that might have proven slippery and formless. The movie does have some abrupt shifts in tone and pacing, perhaps the result of editing choices; there's so much happening here that "Born in 68" could easily have been a much longer film, perhaps a TV miniseries instead of a theatrical release.
If this were an American film, the larger theme might well have devolved into the same shrill polemics that we hear from Washington, D.C., about how "the permissive sixties" sent us down the wrong road. In the case of "Born in 68," with its French setting, the over-arcing theme is more philosophical: every generation has its moral and political battles, complete with its warriors and its stalwart guardians of the home fires.
Human history is less the product of mistakes and regrets than the essential nature of the human heart; faces and specifics may change with the generations, but the central paradoxes of life (freedom versus order, sometimes-rash action versus stagnatingly timid insistence on tradition) create a tension--painful, propulsive, creative--that keeps us forging forward into the same arguments and showdowns. Sometimes, here and there along the way, we get a few things right.