Summer (as unprecedented as this one may appear) often calls for a celebratory tale of youthful love and freedom in the sun, where at once everything and anything seems possible but where one inevitably suffers at the hands of the inexplicable torture we call coming of age. 'Summer of ’85', French director François Ozon’s latest film about a love affair between two boys at a seaside resort in Normandy, effortlessly succeeds in capturing this dichotomous feeling, perfectly highlighting and balancing out the sensations that matter most.
Adapted from Aidan Chambers’ young adult novel Dance on My Grave, the story spans over a fleeting summer during which sixteen year old death obsessed Alexis and eighteen year old seducer David first meet and grow close, and then inevitably find faults in each other. What is for Alexis his first passionate love affair with an adult and a glance at what it is to be older – clubs, motorbikes, and ignoring his anxious parents who are more preoccupied by his studies than his love life – quickly becomes a jealous rage as David’s sexual interest in other people grows clearer. The narrative is layered with flashbacks, told from Alexis’ point of view as he waits at a police station, pale and grievously uncaring, sporting the famously unfashionable double denim. But 'Summer of ’85' is, after all, an ode to the 80s, to sexual freedom; to The Cure (for which the title was changed from ’84 to ‘85, as the film’s theme, Inbetween Days, wasn’t released until the latter year); to dancing and to flannel shirts; movie poster ridden bedroom walls and to the classic 80s film 'La Boum', about teenager Vic (Sophie Marceau) whose Saturday nights revolve around parties, or ‘boums’, and who discovers first love amidst exams and her parents’ imminent divorce. This is perhaps where Ozon’s film digresses slightly. When David places headphones over Alexis’ ears in the middle of a frenzied club, lulling him to the sound of quieter music, one cannot help but see Vic and her new beau, Mathieu. 'Summer of ’85' is certainly an homage, but it sometimes also comes across as an imitation, relatively lazy in its ability to allude to past, beautiful moments without wholly displaying them.
What also lacks is a complicity between the characters, a common thread that ties them indefinitely and in turn bounds them to the viewer. The lack of sensuality in the love scenes however, which appear childish and obtrusive amongst the rest of the narrative, are made up for by the tangible quality of the characters’ clothes and mannerisms, the delicate choices of setting, light and grainy image combined. It is the way David’s mother affectionately undresses virtual stranger Alexis in her bathroom amidst his uncomfortable protestations and the way we understand that it is simply a question of different cultures. It is the way the boys’ faces contort in the wind as they speed along a country road, or the way they tenderly wipe blood off the corner of each other’s mouths, possibly the most erotic sequence of the film. Relative newcomers Felix Lefebvre and Benjamin Voisin are talented actors, but it is in the script that their characters sometimes seem on different wave lengths. It is truthful about the pains of adolescence, but lacks the extra mile that makes Wes Anderson’s idea of childhood love in 'Moonrise Kingdom' so eccentric, or Luca Guadagnino’s vision of summer love with a soul mate in 'Call Me By Your Name' so hopeful, so beautiful and exciting, and yet so useless and excruciating.
What François Ozon is incredibly talented at addressing however is grief, and the ways in which one deals with it. As Alexis introduces David as ‘the corpse’, it quickly becomes clear that he is attempting to tell the story of David’s death before he goes on trial, helped by his teacher who urges him to write about his experiences. This is also another subject that Ozon handles effortlessly: his earlier film 'In The House' tells the story of a student who infiltrates his friend’s house and writes essays about his family life, submitting them to his teacher who in turn becomes obsessed with his stories. Narratives, and the ways in which writing can help us reflect on past events and people, appear frequently in Ozon’s films, but as a result, his own stories sometimes lose themselves. Nevertheless, certain poignant scenes serve as a reminder of Ozon’s fascination with grief and Alexis’ with death, steering the film towards heftier concepts. When Alexis dissolves over David’s dead body at the morgue for instance, a scene loosely reminiscent of Ozon’s earlier film 'Under the Sand', or when the pact the two boys made is finally fulfilled at the cemetery, such trivial matters as seaside escapades and furtive glances over popcorn during a film screening are entirely disregarded. David’s death is symbolical of the death of an era as the dreamy landscapes of the ‘80s come to an abrupt end, but also of Alexis’ naivety and youth as he comes to terms with his relationships both with others and himself. 'Summer of ’85' thus remains a story honest to adolescence and to kids doing the unthinkable out of complete and utter passion for love, friendship and death.
Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor