Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2021 6:03 pm 
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A period gay teen fantasy romance where idyll turns to tragedy

It seems Ozon's latest, a tale of teen gay love that ends tragically, is a movie he would have liked to make when he started; he read the source novel as a teenager. But actors were too inhibited then. Now with Call My By Your Name etc. any young actor is ready to play gay. This is a fantasy of summer romance. Two boys meet where they live on the French Riviera, they have six weeks of happiness, it all goes wrong, one dies, the other gets in serious trouble, but somehow it all smooths over. The pact that whoever lives will dance on the other's grave was observed. But the living boy was hauled into court for desecrating a burial place and thought crazy, and possibly dangerous. The central event is the romantic, sexual fling between the two boys, with the older boy dominating the younger, but then there are all the events and people surrounding this.

Ozon does everything with his usual facility, which is his blessing and his curse. His screenplay adapts the original 1982 Aiden Chambers YA novel pretty faithfully, not only as to the content but also the storytelling method - and the variations in tone from solemn to farcical. The latter have been held against the director by some critics but are not a matter of being arbitrary or unfaithful to the source. Maybe it's all part of the giddy mood swings of adolescence. It's also part of Ozon's love of approaching seriousness with an air of provocation.

In Summer of 85 a scary meet-cute permits an older boy to take charge of the younger and make him his temporary lover. Alexis (Félix Lefebvre) -- who is recalling all this for a social worker via his lycée French teacher (a well disguised Melvil Poupaud) was trying a tricky maneuver in his little sailboat to escape a storm when the boat capsized, and he was rescued by David Gorman (Benjamin Voisin), who brings him home to his nutty, overeager mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). A symphony of blithe inappropriateness, she takes the boy up to the bathroom, strips him, and washes him. She calls him "little rabbit," pets him, and gushes about how happy she is David has found - another - friend. Her husband, David's father, is recently dead and they are running the shop he started to support themselves; it emerges later David has had some unsavory friends. Alex (as he prefers to call himself) is as sweet and correct as anyone could want.

Soon David, who happens to be Jewish, is taking over Alex, taking him to the movies, in his boat, above all on daredevil rides on his motorbike which he speeds on not knowing he's speeding, in a bubble perpetually chasing a phantom of speed, as he tells it. Alex also comes to work at the shop with David and his mother. It's summer; his parents don't see much of him.

All this unfolds in flashback, and Alex starts by announcing that his lover, David, is dead. The tragedy follows a terrible conflict over an English au pair girl, Kate (Philippine Velge) who's been turning up for a while. David takes her up, and drops Alex. This is a dramatically heightened version of the heartbreak of young love (or lust) that quickly passes but leaves lifelong pain.

François Ozon's new movie may function as a kind of delicately lurid wish fulfillment fantasy for gay men, particularly perhaps ones who were 16 in the mid-eighties, especially since eighties pop music like The Cure, Bananarama, Movie Music, and Rod Stewart’s "Sailing" is threaded through the film at all the most opportune moments, and dancing is not only done on David's unmarked Jewish grave, but in a disco with a classic reflecting ball overhead.

The fluent, incredibly prolific Ozon makes movies that are always worth taking a look at. Not all are on a level with Under the Sand, 8 Women, Swimming Pool, and In the House, to name a few obvious bests. Yet if we look at his last three, Franz, Double Lover, and BY the Grace of God, I would not discrcommend any of them. The important and astonishing one is By the Grace of God, a serious and realistic examination of pedophile priests and the aftereffects of their abuse on several very different men. Ozon never did anything so serious, yet he carries this off perfectly. Anglophone critical reactions to Ozon's films seem to be in the "meh" category; some of the nuances may be missed.

But the point is Ozon is interesting when seen as a consistent yet multifaceted auteur, even if most of the time a far from serious one. His œuvre is best when each film is surveyed in the perspective of others, comparing the films to see their interesting interconnections. In a way he has never done anything so flagrantly, joyously, nostalgically gay as Summer of 85. But the interest in sex and love, excessive romance, and dangerous acquaintances runs through the œuvre from first to last. This one goes by a little too quickly. As Benjamin Lee wrote in his Guardian review, Summer of 85 "doesn't haunt" as it should, "fades when it should burn." But this sensuous film may very well begin to glow with multiple viewings.

Félix Lefebvre and Benjamin Voisin were both nominated for for the Meilleur espoir masculin (most promising young male actor) award at the Césars two days ago. Summer of 85 was nominated for 12 César Awards including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Summer of 85/Eté 85, 90 mins., was part of the Cannes Official Selection May 2020, and debuted at Lyon Jul. 2, 2020, opening theatrically - desired by Ozon to have Hichame Alaouie's beautiful, bright 16mm images seen on the big screen, in France Jul. 14, 2020. Screened at home online for this review as part of the all virtual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema Mar. 14, 2021. AlloCiné press rating 3.9 (78%). US release Fri. June 25, 2021. Metacritic rating: 65%. (As I said, "meh".)

See Mark Kermode's admiring Guardian review for more detail.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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