Directed by: Francois Ozon
Written by: Francois Ozon
Starring: Feliz Lefebvre, Benjamin Voisin, Philippine Velge, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Melvil Poupaud, Isabelle Nanty, Aurore Broutin ans Samuel Brafman-Moutier
Cinema has the ability to provoke nostalgia and wanderlust. In fact, the medium has the ability to arouse nostalgia for a time you have never been to. Audiences are aware, whether consciously or subconsciously, that they have never been to this time, and never will. It is an unspoken agreement one makes with the movies- ‘Take me somewhere I will never be able to go’. Wanderlust was a different story. A film, set in France, Spain, Asia or South America, it was conceivable and achievable that you would one day go there. The current global pandemic has fundamentally changed this, and in turn has changed the way we consume film, however temporary. The wanderlust is currently as inconceivable as the nostalgia and it is at this moment that Francois Ozon hits us with Summer of 85.
The title of the film gives away the time in which it is set, as does The Cure’s ‘In Between Days’ which plays over the film’s opening credits. The place is Le Treport, Northern France. Our protagonist Alex (Lefebvre), is indeed in between days, deciding whether he should continue his studies in English literature or find a job, pressure is on from le frère (Brafman-Moutier) to select the latter. Alex strikes up a friendship that quickly turns into romance with live-for-the-moment David (Voisin) whose father has recently died. While the two young men are magnetic on screen together, Ozon’s script tries to draw too obvious contrasts between the pair. Alex, we are told, is obsessed with death. However, this part of his character is underwritten, and allusions to Hamlet at the end of the film seem a little trite.
But, I digress, because the majority of this film, gorgeously shot by in Super 16mm by Hichame Alaouie to get a grainy, retro effect, is a treat for the senses. The colour palette of coastal France is vividly brought to life, reminiscence of the films of French New Wave director Eric Rohmer, especially his 1983 film Pauline at the Beach, a film Ozon seems to be directly homaging. This film is more than a coming-of-age romance. True to form, Ozon infuses the film with noir tropes. Alex is narrating the film retrospectively through means of a confessional essay written at the behest of his literature professor. A darker side to the story emerges as Alex’s infatuation with the free spirited David turns sour.
Ozon just about keeps the tonal balance of the film but after it reaches its climax, the denouement fails to live up to what has preceded it. The film is at its most alive when Lefebvre and Voisin are on screen together. Both relative newcomers to the big screen, they look like Justin Bieber and a young Mick Jagger respectively. Summer of 85 recalls some of Ozon’s best work, most notably Swimming Pool (2003), with it’s sunny climes, lazy days and touch of noirish dread. It is imperfect but wholly alluring.