Olivier Assayas is a die-hard cinephile whose creative aesthetic derives from many sources. Like many artists and intellectuals of his generation, his political consciousness was (in)formed by the Paris Spring of 1968. He was a critic for the influential film magazine Cahiers du Cinema in the 1970s where he penned his admiration not only for staple European auteurs (Bresson, Bergman, Tarkovsky) but also for emerging Asian voices. (He later made HHH, a documentary portrait of Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien).
Assayas served a cinema apprenticeship with his father, himself a director/screenwriter, who relied more and more on his son for writing assistance as his health failed in later years. Assayas’ work is characterised both by its high intelligence and its visual allure. Interestingly, despite ticking all of the auteur boxes, it retains a high degree of eclecticism as it roves between themes, subjects and styles.
While Irma Vep (1996, arguably his most celebrated film to date) is a behind-the-scenes comedy about moviemaking, the feature/TV production Carlos (2010) is a gritty globe-trotting thriller, more reminiscent of Michael Mann (of whom Assayas is an admirer). Cold Water (1994) is a beautifully observed coming-of-age story while Clouds of Sils Maria (2014, starring Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart) is a complex tale of personal insecurities and professional jealousies within the acting community. His 2016 Cannes competition Personal Shopper (also starring Kristen Stewart) is a ghost story set in the contemporary world of bespoke high-end purchases and smartphones. In every film, Assayas looks to defy audience expectation, focusing his artistic senses on the politics of discord, and this he effects in highly nuanced and fractal terms - shot by shot, scene by scene and character by character.Thu 2 Feb, 15:00, de Doelen Jurriaanse Zaal, €5.50