Film #255: Summertime (2015)

labellesaisonaka: La belle saison
director: Catherine Corsini
language: French (and a little bit of Spanish)
length: 105 minutes
watched on: 26 Dec 2016 (plane 6/6)

I mentioned in my review of the short film I watched on the way back to the UK that I’d been sifting through Air France’s selection for anything LGBT-related, and this film was basically the only one I could find (I had a vain hope that I might be able to find Quand on a 17 ans (Being 17), with proper subtitles, but it wasn’t to be). I heard about it last year because it was the opening event at the LGBT film festival in Tokyo (now called Rainbow Reel Tokyo – I wrote some reviews last year starting with this one), and if I’d had a little more time and money, I might have tried to go, but it didn’t make the cut, eventually.

The movie is about a country girl who goes to university in the city, in the 70s. She gets accidentally caught up in a feminist group, by saving one of them from an aggressive man – she then starts a passionate love affair with that woman. And so on. The other woman comes back with her to the countryside and tries to fit in, but finds it difficult.

Just opening with farmland vistas it was already shaping up to be very similar in tone and style to Being 17. That other movie also had farms and landscape almost acting like another character. Seasonality is also important – this time it’s summer in particular. The characters spend large parts of the second act lounging in fields and having picnics. There’s something very French about that, it makes me nostalgic for going on holiday there as a child. There’s also something very French about the frank nudity in the second act, incidentally – what else should we expect?

I’ve mentioned a lot recently the tendency for filmmakers to exaggerate the distinction between now and the periods they’re portraying, to the point that it becomes parody or cartoonish – I’ve noticed this in High-Rise, Toast, and Stranger Things, just to name a few. I was reminded of High-Rise in this movie by the fact that people are constantly smoking, at least in the Paris scenes – but these scenes are actually more evocative of nouvelle-vague due to that and a few other things, reminding me a lot of Jean-Luc Godard’s work.

There is a familiar tension between the city and country in this film, especially between the two leads – the one girl who has to go back to the countryside to take care of her mother and dying father, and the other who kind of follows her reluctantly and never fits in there. And of course with homophobia – attitudes to such things in liberal Paris are at odds with how the mother reacts late in the film when she finds out about the two women sleeping together.

The film touches on a much wider variety of issues than that, though – sometimes it feels like it’s making too much of an effort, in fact. But I really enjoyed it. It was uplifting, despite a lot of heartbreak and emotion. It had a lot of comedy moments, despite often being very sad. It chronicles the entire course of a love affair from beginning to end, over the course of a brief summer (as I mentioned, and as the title proclaims, seasons are very important), and I think that is one of the main things that differentiates it from Being 17, which is all about beginnings.

It can be all too easy when exploring the world of LGBT cinema to stick to your own gender – a lot of gay men don’t watch lesbian films and vice versa – and I don’t think I need to convince any lesbians to watch this. So this goes out to all the guys, and straight people, reading this review – watch this. It’s good.

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