Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 27, 2021 7:54 pm 
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FRANÇOIS OZON: SUMMER OF 85/ÉTÉ 85 REVISITED

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MELVIL POUPAUD AND FÉLIX LEFEBRE IN ÉtÉ 85

Close, yet not so close

The following are some observations after seeing Summer of 85 in the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley, California today, June 27, 2021. This is the first time I've watched a movie on a big screen since March 16, 2020, when I left a shutting-down New York and returned to San Francisco, where the California shutdown was declared by Governor Gavin Newsom the next day. It was great to be back!

To tell the truth it had slipped my mind that I'd already seen this entire film a year into the shutdown - on a screener in the all-virtual Lincoln Center 2021 French series three months ago. (My review is available in its original form HERE.) It was still well worth seeing again. But clearly it had left very little emotional memory. At first I thought I'd just seen a lot of different trailers and read multiple reviews; then I realized I remembered every scene. But however breezy the story and pale the emotions, I still argue even Ozon's lesser films are worth watching in relation to his body of work, which interacts in interesting ways. Being in an auditorium, in this movie house's most uncomfortable of its various seats, I was wide awake and took no breaks.

The more I watch Summer of 85 the more I find Benjamin Voisin as the slightly older, taller, and more ripped seducer boy David Gorman and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as his wildly inappropriate mother a little crude and unappealing, and the more warm and appealing I find not only Félix Lefebvre as Alexis/Alex, the seduced and bereaved boy, but also Isabelle Nanty and Laurent Fernandez as his sweet and kindly mother and father. The depiction of Alex's nice, supportive - but discreetly predatory - lycée teacher Monsieur Lefebre by Melvil Poupaud is slipshod; not Poupaud's fault, really. He's meant to be ambiguous but he's just sketchy and unreal, starting with Poupaud's standard-issue prof disguise/drag of mustache and glasses. Poupaud is a little too generically handsome to be convincing as a nerdy high school teacher.

Yes: confusing names: "Lefèvre" is the prof character's name, and "Lefebre" is the name of the young actor who plays Alex. Lefebre gives his all, especially in the dancing-on-the grave sequences. I thought French people couldn't dance; but this kid really can. Alex's visit to the morgue in drag with Kate's help to see if David is really dead is the movie's most fun sequence. I guess it defines how Ozon wants us to experience the story: gushy, emotional, but a little bit ludicrous - maybe more than a little bit. Lefebre is adorable, convincing, and the emotional center of the film.

One reason Summer of 85 "doesn't haunt," and "fades when it should burn" in the words of the Guardian's Benjamin Lee, is the screenplay adaptation's broken-up structure, apparently close to the source YA novel, which makes for zero suspense. There are flashbacks from two different moments, though both Alex's, plus the self-reflexive framework of his writing and scenes of him submitting it to Monsieur Lefèvre. I now see the strong contrast here with another, more savvy and clever boy submitting his writing to the flabbergasted teacher in Ozon's far superior 2012 film, In the House/Dans la maison, where that writing has a riveting effect on Fabrice Luchini's more weighty lycée French teacher character. Poupaud's character is largely neutral, though as always, the actor is watchable and suave.

The heart of the action here is Alex, and the actor throws passion into his dramatic final gestures, even if the direction and screenplay undercut his effect.

This is still a sexy and exciting movie, if one that will probably play much better for you if you go in to watch it cold, knowing nothing beforehand. It's not one of the director's very best, but it's one of his most overtly gay stories and probably his most personally nostalgic. As I just learned from Pauline Kael's profile of Cary Grant, in Clifford Odets' 1944 None But the Lonely Heart Grant was playing the role closest to his own early experience, yet seemed inauthentic in it. Similarly, the fact that Été 85 is particularly close to Ozon's intimate feelings doesn't necessarily mean that in it he achieves emotional authenticity. We now know Ozon can do serious (Franz, By the Grace of God); we don't know that he can do emotionally authentic. That's the fundamental trouble with Ozon's doing a story like this. He can't go in all the way.

Summer of 85/Été 85, 90 mins., was included as a selection in the cancelled 2020 Cannes festival but premiered July at Lyon. It opened Bastille Day July 14, 2020 in Paris to good reviews ( AlloCiné press rating 3.9 (78%). US release June 18, 2021. Metasore 65% (typical of Qzon's relatively low esteem among Anglophone critics.)

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