SIFF 2021 Review: Summer of 85

Year: 2020


Runtime: 91 minutes

.
Director:  Francois Ozon


Starring: Felix Lefebvre, Benjamin Voisin, Philippine Velge

By: Tom Moore

Writer/director Francois Ozon’s latest feature is a sun-soaked summer tale of love and friendship in France with “Summer of 85”.

The film, partly based on Aidan Chambers’ 1982 novel “Dance on My Grave”, follows a wallflower teen named Alex (Felix Lefebvre) who begins a strong friendship with another local boy named David (Benjamin Voisin) that blossoms into something greater that makes Alex grow to understand himself better. For a good chunk of the time, it’s easy to forget that “Summer of 85” takes place in its titular year and that’s not a bad thing. Sure, the clothes, the hair, and the bright summery colors of the film evoke that 80’s look and feel anyone would expect to see. Frankly, even the cinematography from Hichame Alaouie gives the film this older look that makes it feel like a lost love tale on a VHS and I mean that as a compliment. “Summer of 85” definitely is authentic to its time when it comes to its look and is equally authentic to the freeing feel of summer when it comes to Alex and David’s blossoming summer romance.

The second they meet after David rescues Alex from a watery grave after he capsizes his small sailing boat, you can feel this instant connection between them that sparks something more. The way that they have this whirlwind budding friendship stemming from a fateful encounter that turns into a summer romance that tugs at your heart strings with how you see them together and Alex’s devoted narration. It’s classic and simple in the right ways and gives you all of the great vibes of a summer romance that could be something more. Lefebvre and Voisin have great on-screen chemistry and add a lot of genuine romance to Alex and David’s relationship.

Ozon’s use of narration and non-linear storytelling is surprisingly effective here. Personally, I’m never usually a fan of a film using a lot of narration or basically spoiling the destination of where the story is heading from the start, but Alex’s perspective in the film makes it a very personal telling. It feels like a real recounting of their relationship and ends up creating nice surprises within the story. Often times, it’s easy to think certain people and events have a specific role in Alex and David’s relationship but end up meaning something completely different. It’s one of the big things that ends up working well for the film and keeps you attached to the relationship that can fall into philosophical traps at times.

Alex’s odd obsession with death can be a little tough to relate to at times and the film struggles to maintain a sense of good pacing or meaning when their relationship gets rocky. The film definitely attempts to make its central romance this explorative philosophical journey that just doesn’t work as well as when the film is grounded and more relatable. When their relationship hits a rough patch, things fall apart way too quickly, and the film takes this turn that doesn’t feel warranted. Honestly, as a whole, the second half of the film is much weaker than the first half and its mainly because it tries to grapple with new themes about their love and Alex’s views rather than just be simple.

Not everything is lost though as Alex’s personal learnings and the impact of their relationship are still maintained in key moments. The way the film explores Alex’s inexperience with love and his views of David, and their relationship are really unique and touch on the idea of first love in a very interesting way. The big moment the film is leading to with Alex keeping a promise to David about a pact they make is genuinely sweet and touches your heart in a way that makes their strange relationship feel satisfying.

“Summer of 85” may make some storytelling missteps here and there, but it ultimately creates a summer romance that can tug at anyone’s heart strings and gives off nostalgic, summery good vibes.

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