Summer of 85

review: Summer of 85 (2020)

Year: 2020

Runtime: 100 mins

Writer/Director: Francois Ozon

Stars: Félix Lefebvre, Benjamin Voisin

By Mique Wilson

Francois Ozon’s latest offering opens up with Alex (Félix Lefebvre), promising us that the story we are about to see will not end well. Though how could anything end well at the precarious age Alex is in? An age where even the most infinitesimal problems are manifestly larger than anything anyone who isn’t an angsty, death-obsessed teen could think of. 

Ozon’s bittersweet, sun-drenched coming-of-age tale (based on Aidan Chamers’s 1982 novel, “Dance on My Grave”) is a gay romance set in France. Alex’s boat has capsized and David (Benjamin Voisin) seemingly materializes out of nowhere ala Deus Ex Machina. David takes Alex to his house and introduces him to his single mother who asserts that this home is where Alex supposedly takes all the people he’s rescued. David, with his sun-bronzed skin, slick hair, and menacing smile has Alex completely enraptured. 

Summer of 85
Photo Credit: Music Box Films

There are few filmmakers who are able to capture the absolute joy of living in a human body. People and nature are placed at the forefront of the picture: the saturated hues of primary color-toned bathing suits, contrasted with the turquoise hues of the ocean and the chartreuse spears of grass with bare feet pattering on and on. As this whirlwind courtship unfolds, flashbacks to the present day show Alex being accused of a crime he admits–in voice over–to having done. 

Ozon juxtaposes sex and death with the stylistic confidence of a filmmaker daring his audience to fall in love with a story that will inevitably end unfavorably. The film is resplendently shot on super-16. Cinematographer Hichame Alaouie magnificently captures David working his magic on Alex. As we hear their conversations and walk, swim, and dance alongside them in the beaches, yards, and local theme parks of France–we almost forget about Alex’s current state. And when we remember it, we force it out of our mind’s eye because we’re so swept up in the achingly bittersweet feeling of falling in love for the first time. 

Photo Credit: Music Box Films

This film may well be likened to other summer coming-of-age gay romances like “Call My By Your Name”. Though “Call Me” takes place in the realm of fantasy (let’s face it: it’s a film about rich, educated, white people vacationing in Europe with zero bigotry set in 1983), this tale is far more grounded in reality. Ozon also manages to strike a precise balance between both the morbid, and the romantic. In addition to this, he also ventures into darkly comic, Haneke-esque, territory with one particular scene in a morgue which I shall not give away. David’s suppressed grief from the death of his father and Jewish heritage, coupled with Alex’s pragmatic, yet sympathetic parents make this tale feel more grounded in a reality more tangible to the average viewer. 

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