Summer of 85

 

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Adolescent love in the 1980s is central in the latest film from a noted French director.

 
Summer of '85

Benjamin Voisin, Philippine Velge and Félix Lefebvre

 

Of all the directors making films today few others, if any, have the special gift that François Ozon exhibits when on a technical level he reaches his very best form. When that happens everything goes so smoothly that it gives the impression that filmmaking is the easiest thing in the world. That was how he made me feel when viewing Jeune et Jolie in 2013 and it happens again at the start of Summer of '85. This is a tale of first love and, being an Ozon film, it is no surprise that the love affair depicted should be a gay one. It takes place on the Normandy coast and portrays the experience that happens to 16-year-old Alex (Félix Lefebvre). He falls for 18-year-old David (Benjamin Voisin), a youth who luckily happens to be around when Alex's small boat capsizes and thus saves his life. Both actors are first-class and, if gay audiences are likely to be enraptured, the fact is that the players capture the youthful emotions so deftly that viewers are likely to be able to identify regardless of their sexuality.

 

Above all else, Summer of '85 is a love story, but even before that aspect develops it hooks the audience. Alex is the narrator and his opening remarks which precede what is mainly a narrative told in flashback reveal his preoccupation with the subject of death and refer to the impact that one particular corpse had on him. Add that we are made aware at the outset that our narrator has been charged with some crime and our curiosity is aroused even before one other early intriguing revelation is vouchsafed, namely that the corpse in question will be David's. The story that then unfolds may lack the depth and originality to be a masterpiece yet it does develop into a tale that carries the interesting suggestion that all too often people invent the person with whom they fall in love: that is to say that, instead of seeing that person for real, they fabricate their dream vision and impose it onto how they view the loved one. In any case, regardless of any limitations that may be felt, the first half of Summer of '85 is thoroughly beguiling with both the period and the location being very well caught in a seemingly effortless way.

 

Much of what is on offer here is too good to pass up, but the film's second half is decidedly less persuasive. The credits indicate that Ozon's screenplay is a free adaptation of a young adult novel by Aidan Chambers and, not having read that, it is difficult to be sure how much originates from Ozon himself. Nevertheless, just when the events on screen have started to feel somewhat less convincing, a scene at a mortuary involves a key detail which is so Ozonesque that it feels close to self-parody and consequently the lack of credibility is doubled. After that the doubts increase: a climactic scene features Rod Stewart singing 'Sailing' on the soundtrack and, while that same song has fitted well earlier, it seems ill-suited to this new context; as for the coda that follows it is something of a cliché. Ultimately, then, the film misses the mark, which is a great shame when there is so much to applaud, especially the performances. The admirable supporting cast includes Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Isabelle Nanty and Laurent Fernandez as parents and Melvil Poupaud as a teacher, but it is still Lefebvre and Voisin who stand out and really should not be missed.

 

Original title: Été 85.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Félix Lefebvre, Benjamin Voisin, Philippine Velge, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Melvil Poupaud, Isabelle Nanty, Laurent Fernandez, Aurore Broutin, Yoann Zimmer, Antoine Simony, Patrick Zimmermann.

 

Dir François Ozon, Pro Eric Altmayer and Nicolas Altmayer, Screenplay François Ozon, freely adapted from Dance on My Grave by Aidan Chambers, Ph Hichame Alaouie, Art Dir Benoît Barouh, Ed Laure Gardette, Music Jean-Benoît Dunckel, Costumes Pascaline Chavanne.

 

Mandarin Production and Foz/France 2 Cinéma/Playtime Production/Scope Pictures/RTBF-Curzon.
101 mins. France/Belgium. 2020. Rel: 23 October 2020. Cert. 15.