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Film Review: Été 85 aka Summer of 85 (2020)

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

With its shots of Normandy beaches basking in warm sunshine, accompanying air of indolence and maybe just maybe the promise of erotic fulfilment in the balmy air, Francois Ozon’s Summer of 85 makes an impactful start. One is immediately reminded of Eric Rohmer’s Pauline a La Plage. So far so good.

And like Rohmer’s quintessential coming-of-age drama of 1983, Ozon’s tale will also concern itself with emotional and sexual awakening. Nor would any such tale be complete without that classic ingredient of French comedy: the menage a trois. Thus, Summer of ’85 has got the lot, or so it appears.

When 16-year-old Alexis (Félix Lefebvre) capsizes his sailing boat, his rescuer turns out to be the slightly older and worldly-wise David, played with rakish relish by Benjamin Voisin. Soon, the pair strike up a friendship. Their world revolves around the beach, the summer sun and hedonism. All those bronzed male torsos and six-packs suggest that this relationship is travelling in one direction only - seduction.

Oozing sexuality, the experience of the swaggering David contrasts sharply to the naivete of his companion. What develops is a boyish friendship – riding motorbikes, sailing – the guys are having fun. Meanwhile, under the surface sexual tension bubbles away. Alexis, we assume, is unsure about his own sexuality. Is his attraction to the older, charismatic David mere infatuation or something else?

Just as the two chums have become physically involved up pops an English au pair Kate (Philippine Velge). Nothing if not androgynous it’s only a matter of time before David steams in leaving a very confused and jealous Alexis in his wake. David’s brutal dismissal of his lover is a scene of pure heartbreak, introducing a dark cloud into the otherwise fluffy summer ambience.

And so, tragedy strikes. With David’s death in a motorcycle accident the tone of the film turns even darker. To increase the pain further, the Stuart Copeland lookalike was attempting to locate his bitter ex-lover. Was reconciliation in the air, peut-etre? Alexis’ world collapses. Abandoned by his first love both spiritually and physically summer has turned to winter.

And then it gets a bit . . . well silly.

Enlisting the help of Kate, Alexis dresses up in full drag in order to gain access to the mortuary to see the perfect corpse of his lover one last time. (Alexis is obsessed by death, ok?) Apart from the chance for Lefebvre to wear a dress and make-up, there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason why the film takes a Drag Queen turn. Granted, Lefebvre does look good in drag. But as a plot device . . . porquoi?

It gets even more bizarre. Once in the mortuary the distraught young dragster jumps atop his former lover and proceeds to gyrate. This has the effect of knocking off his wig. Zut alors! It’s a boy! The mortuary attendant is . . . mortified.

But then the real dilemma strikes: should he die young (prescient or what?) David had bizarrely made his young lover promise to dance on his grave. Why, we don’t know. Presumably, to show joy. Anyway, poor bereft Alexis is determined to honour this request. His moonlight kung-fu routine is however interrupted by the police who, true to form, spoil the fun.

All’s well that ends well. After a slap on the wrist Alexis is soon down the beach. He has discovered his true identity. It’s now him doing the picking up. And all thanks to David, the cheeky chappie with the earing and glint-in-the-eye.

Summer of 85 is not a bad film. For the first two thirds it’s a sometimes quite tender love story. But the theme of first love and the nostalgia implicit in the title could have been better defined. I’d like to have seen the tale through the eyes of a much older and wiser Alexis. Has he changed since that first juvenile affair? While not quite in the class of Pauline a la Plage, it’s a film that scores well in terms of the performances of its two male leads.

And that Normandy backdrop is exquisite. You can almost feel the sand gently chaffing your skin, the waves and the sun’s rays on your own body. Mmm.