VOD film review: Summer of 85
Romance and intrigue8
Script and direction8
Matthew Turner | On 23, Oct 2020
Director: François Ozon
Cast: Félix Lefebvre, Benjamin Voisin, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Philippine Velge, Melvil Poupaud, Isabelle Nanty, Laurent Fernandez
Watch Summer of 85 online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
Adapted from Aidan Chambers’ 1982 British novel Dance on My Grave, Summer of 85 is the 19th feature film from writer-director François Ozon. Given the subject matter, there are obvious similarities with Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name, although the film is unmistakably suffused with Ozon’s signature blend of romance, eroticism and mystery.
Pointedly set in the summer of 1985 – effectively the last innocent time for gay relationships, before the spectre of the AIDS crisis became unignorable – the film stars relative newcomer Félix Lefebvre as 16-year-old Alex, whose parents have recently moved to the seaside town of Treport in Normandy. After capsizing his boat, he’s rescued by attractive 18-year-old David (Benjamin Voisin), who immediately takes him home to meet his mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and to get a change of clothes.
Alex is captivated by David and the pair fall in love, spending the summer together, although the arrival of tomboy-ish English au pair Kate (Philippine Velge) proves an unsettling influence. Moreover, we know the affair will end badly, because the film begins with Alex being questioned by the police over David’s death and the main story unfolds in flashback.
Ozon’s structuring of the film is slightly cleverer than that traditional set-up suggests. Rather than narrating from the police interview, it transpires that Alex is actually writing down what happened for his social worker (Aurore Broutin) and French teacher (Melvil Poupaud), to help the police make sense of the case. In doing so, the film explicitly frames the story from Alex’s point-of-view, as he seeks to understand, interpret and perhaps even exaggerate his own experience.
With David’s eventual death foregrounded – “There he is, the future corpse” is Alex’s voiceover comment when he first appears – the story allows for an exquisite build-up of tension that consistently undercuts the joyful nature of the budding relationship. It’s possible to feel a little cheated by the way the story eventually plays out, but the sense of mystery itself is still enjoyable in the moment.
On top of that, the film is filled with playful moments of eroticism – including Valeria Bruni Tedeschi teasingly undressing Alex for a bath, which initially suggests a very different plot direction – and a cross-dressing sequence that seems like a cheeky callback to Ozon’s own 1996 short, A Summer Dress. Ozon also includes several memorable details that are heavy with symbolism, such as David’s flick comb.
The performances are superb. Lefebvre, in particular, expertly conveys the intoxicating rush of first love, while Voisin radiates cool older kid charisma – both actors will almost certainly get career boosts as a result of their work here. There’s also strong support from Poupaud, while Bruni Tedeschi lights up the screen with her all-too-brief appearances.
What’s especially interesting is the way Ozon eschews all the usual clichés of the coming-out genre – there’s no angst and even the various parents react to the relationship in intriguingly unexpected ways. The film is further heightened by some delightfully nostalgic 1980s production design, stunning summer photography from Hichame Alaouie and some nice location work, as well as some spot-on soundtrack choices that include the likes of The Cure, Madonna, Rod Stewart and Bananarama.