French director François Ozon (double lover, 8 women) tends to look at gender situations from their own perspective, using their conventions to form ironic, stylized variations on familiar material. As a result, he favors the conscious artifice and sheer verve of storytelling over behavioral plausibility, trends that are very clear in his 2012 feature film. In the House, in which a 16-year-old draws his teacher into an ever-expanding web of voyeuristic narratives. His last, Summer 85, also uses a teenager’s nascent literary gifts to frame his narrative, but the context, a tragic story of first love off the French coast of Normandy, is less grim and ultimately rather serious. This emotional frankness is likely in keeping with Ozon’s source material (a 1982 YA novel by British author Aidan Chambers), but it’s an unstable match for his direction, who ends up keeping this story intensely personal to one. ironic and staid place.
The romance in question takes place between Alexis (Félix Lefebvre), 16, a working-class child whose teacher (Melvil Poupaud) encourages him to write, and David (Benjamin Voisin), a slightly older boy whose the mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) owns a high-end store for fishing and yachting supplies. Right off the bat, however, we learn that in the film’s nominal present, David is dead and Alexis was arrested for some sort of crime. What we see of their relationship therefore takes place in flashback, framed by the narration and writing of the latter. Isolated details aside – David’s ripe psychoanalytic habit of pulling out his pocket knife / comb; a club scene which gives the film its common thread, “Sail” by Rod Stewart– the arc of their relationship is quite familiar and quickly dealt with. David joins Alexis confidently. Despite identifying a number of red flags, Alexis returns the favor. David ends up getting bored and drops him unceremoniously. The narrative suspense of the film therefore comes to wonder how David ends up dying, and what crime Alexis commits.
Although artificial, the answer to the latter, at least, is not uninteresting. (Unless one is already familiar with Chambers’ novel, the title of which is a spoiler, it is virtually impossible to guess at the start of the film.) The main problem is that both questions are answered in about 40 minutes. , which leaves the film spinning its wheels until the conclusion of its full circle. In the second half, Ozon includes a wacky, cross-dressing subplot that references his playful 1996 short. A summer dress, and also fills in some hitherto overlooked details about Alexis’ family situation, particularly how his working class people might react to his sexuality. But the two aspects only accentuate the film’s muddled qualities, making it wish that Ozon either took the occasional scandal a step further or chose to make his film more behaviorally consistent. Likewise, a number of scenes seem to actively invite comparison with Call me by your name, which does Summer 85 no favors for its energetic but vaporous evocation of first love.
The self-fiction frame of Summer 85 provides some justification for all of this. One could plausibly say that the film’s widely varying tones, textures, and characterizations all express its true subject: how each of us views our lives as a narrative and builds fictions about the people we meet, especially those we meet. we like. Still, thematic consistency doesn’t make a movie. At the end, Summer 85 It’s about the idea of romance more than true romance, and at this level, it works almost too well, leaving someone wishing for something more substantial.