September 13, 2020 6:44:29 pm
It is the summer of ’85 in Normandy, and two young men are about to meet-cute around a capsized boat. Alexis Robin (Felix Lefebvre) is treading the waves, looking around for help, and David Gorman (Benjamin Voisin) hoves into view. The rescue leads inevitably to a relationship where lust and love combine: what else can happen between two good-looking teenagers, hormones running wild, sand between their toes, bare torsos glistening? It also leads to a tragedy, in slow reveal.
Something about the free-flowing electricity between the young men reminds one of the early Ozon films (Swimming Pool), where there was a similar tumble of semi-clothed humans doused in undercurrents of suspense. With the appearance of a third young person, the gorgeous English au pair Kate (Philippine Velge), we come to learn, almost as a throwaway fact, that there was something between her and the uber-sexy David, but there is never any doubt about which side this triangle is skewed.
The sexual awakening of attractive adolescents may be a trope, but with master filmmakers we expect a freshening, and with Ozon at the helm, unfiltered passion. Instead, this is an auteur pulling back, leaning into conservatism, reminding us of his later, darker films (By The Grace Of God). It feels strange to see how much Ozon holds back, in fact: his older avatar wouldn’t have thought twice about a much older female character and Alexis getting it on, the moment between them clearly sexualized, but carefully not sexual.
Based on British author Aidan Chamber’s YA novel Dance On My Grave, published in ’82, Ozon’s film harks back to a more innocent pre-AIDS time (HIV would come into public consciousness a year after the time of the film). The high-waisted jeans, the puffy Travolta hair, and the candy-striped outfits are also very 80s, as is the disapproval of the people who are in charge of the youngsters: the let-it-all-out era was still some ways off.
Something about the lushness of the locations, the sparkle of the sea, the greenery, and the young men coming into their gay identities, may remind you of Call Me By Your Name. But I missed the breath-stopping awareness that built up between Luca Guadagnino’s male protagonists, and the emotions that marked them. I also flashed back to Summer of ‘42, a much older film, which also has a young pubescent male, a beach, and a summer fling, but again, that film also has much more feeling than this new Ozon.
Seduction has always been Ozon’s thing, and how beautifully he does it in his best work. In this one, it keeps grabbing at us, but not always effectively: Summer of 85 is Ozon in minor key.
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