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Thread: SUMMER OF 85/Été 85 (François Ozon 2020) US release

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    SUMMER OF 85/Été 85 (François Ozon 2020) US release

    This review was part of my Filmleaf Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2021 coverage in March. Now I've seen it on the big screen - in a post-pandemic movie theater. Some reactions to that rewatch will be found below.



    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. Metascore 65%. (As I said, "meh.)

    See Mark Kermode's admiring Guardian review for more detail.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2021 at 11:12 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area


    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 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 Jun1 18, 2021. Metasore 65% (typical of Qzon's relatively low esteem among Anglophone critics.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2021 at 11:40 PM.


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