A spirit of rebellion has always run through the work of French writer-director Olivier Assayas, but it is perhaps most acutely felt in his masterpiece Cold Water. After growing up in the political tumult of France in the sixties and seventies, Assayas followed a path similar to the one traveled by several titans of the French New Wave, first working as a critic for Cahiers du cinéma , then moving on to film projects, including collaborations with André Téchiné and his own feature directorial debut, the 1986 Disorder. In 1994, he made his artistic breakthrough with Cold Water, a portrait of the unruliness of youth that draws inspiration from his own life. The film originated as a commissioned piece for All the Boys and Girls of Their Age (Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge), a French television series focused on adolescence that also included work by Claire Denis and Chantal Akerman. Aside from the subject matter, the rules of the game were that each episode contain a party scene using rock music and be shot on Super 16 mm within an eighteen to twenty-four-day time span. Assayas’s response to the challenge was a formally daring, poignant drama about a pair of rebellious young lovers, Gilles (Cyprien Fouquet) and Christine (Virginie Ledoyen), in the early 1970s. The film reaches its high point in a thirty-minute-long party scene at an abandoned country mansion, set to a string of tunes that evoke the era.
Though it garnered acclaim when it played in the Un Certain Regard section of the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, Cold Water has long been difficult to see, having never received theatrical distribution in the U.S. In anticipation of the film’s opening at New York’s IFC Center, I spoke with Assayas about its autobiographical origins and the impact it has had on the rest of his career.
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