Thursday, July 8, 2021

In Between Days: SUMMER OF 85

The French know how to make coming-of-age movies better than anyone. A recent example is Summer of 85, which has a deep vein of feeling to mine beneath its bland title. Fran├žois Ozon writes and directs the story of Alexis (Felix Lefebvre), a teenage boy who becomes fast friends, and more, with David (Benjamin Voisin), a handsome slightly older boy. Against the picturesque backdrop of a seaside village, the boys become intimately intertwined in one another’s lives, and yet, because of the ill-defined boundaries of their love, and their inability to explain to anyone else what the nature of their budding romance might become, they are isolated together. This helps breed the intensity of their bond, but also sows the seeds of a great sadness were they ever to fall out, especially as the intensity of affection slowly gets lopsided. (That the film keeps bouncing back in time from a teased tragedy helps sell the bittersweetness of the happy times on display.) 

The movie covers just a few weeks of summer work and play in the sun and sand, long languorous evenings out lingering larger than home and parents. (The folks have their own issues, fairly or unfairly projected onto their sons.) It captures the push-pull of adolescent relationships, especially in the sun-dappled whirlwind fleeting qualities held in the very grain and light of its frames. Here there’s rush and regret, obsession and awkwardness, intensity and shyness, the frenzy and the melancholy, the sugar-high of new sensation and the lingering sting of a loss. There’s natural fresh-faced openness to the performers who physicalize the ups and downs of their six-week encounter, and Ozon, always so good at conjuring the intangible through the physical, baring feelings through bodies, poses them in the frame with an unforced naturalism and a casual beauty. And the film is covered in well-chosen voice over from Alexis, who pours out his perspective from a stormy reminiscing remove. He says he was in love with him. Or at least, as much as he knew about the word at that time. And that makes all the difference. We feel that distance, which makes the surging sensation of a well-chosen montage — the best cinematic use of Rod Stewart, perhaps, a feat then double-underlined by an especially poignant reprise — line up all the more tremulously against the cold reality of time gone by. This coming-of-age is not so much about growing into a different person, as it is forging ahead a little older and wiser after one sudden crash of a teenage summer. It's a film that knows teenagers see every new feeling as the most important they’ve ever felt.

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