Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
Original title: Été 85
France/Belgium, 2020. Mandarin Films, FOZ, France 2 Cinema, Playtime Production, Scope Pictures, Radio Television Belge Francophone, Canal+, OCS, France Televisions, Région Normandie, Sacem, La Banque Postale Image 13, Indéfilms 8, Cofimage 31, Palatine Etoile 17, SG Image 2018, Centre National du Cinema et de L’Image Animee. Screenplay by Francois Ozon, based on the novel Dance On Your Grave by Aidan Chambers. Cinematography by Hichame Alaouie. Produced by Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer. Music by Jean-Benoît Dunckel. Production Design by Benoit Barouh. Costume Design by Pascaline Chavanne. Film Editing by Laure Gardette. European Film Awards 2020. Online Film Critics Awards 2020. Toronto International Film Festival 2020.
Francois Ozon adapts a young adult novel by Aidan Chambers for this tale of a summer of love that ends in tragedy. Teenager Alex has moved with his parents to a seaside French town and spends his days on the beach or borrowing a friend’s boat for lazy days of sailing, one of which turns deadly when he is caught in a storm and capsizes. Thankfully, the handsome and wild David is sailing nearby and saves Alex and his boat, then immediately invites him home to change and have dinner with his overly familiar but warm mother (Ozon regular Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). David insists on becoming exclusive friends and Alex is eager to agree, accompanying him to the movies and amusement park and, almost seamlessly, their friendship turns to lovemaking and they appear to be inextricably linked; with the same spontaneity with which they found each other, the appearance of a friendly English au pair named Kate threatens their intimacy. The story is narrated in flashback, framed by scenes that take place months later where Alex has been arrested for having done something, his caseworker working to find out the meaning behind his actions, while his educational mentor (Melvil Poupaud) convinces him to write his experience down in the form of a story: as the past narrative moves to its dramatic climax, we discover how Alex’s guilt pushes him to a rather desperate and, not atypical for a teenager, extreme obsession. Ozon can’t compose a shot without drenching you in the beauty of the location, the boys and the bright but not overly exploited eighties colour scheme, but in his desperation to find the truth behind a story overflowing with familiar cliches he doesn’t quite make something emotionally inspiring. The relationship at the heart of the film is lovely and sexy at appropriate turns but one never gets to the heart of their connection. David’s complex and mysterious nature is a surprise to everyone but Alex, as only a teenager can’t understand that someone that quick to passion and devotion is just as easily bored and dismissive. Ozon, ever the sadist who loves to punish himself for allowing himself any feelings of sentimentality, chooses not to have the main character learn anything after all that suffering, instead giving us a conclusion that plays like a cruel joke for an audience who, in hoping for a film that they could not only enjoy but could also cherish, isn’t in the mood to laugh.