The Movie Waffler New to MUBI - SUMMER OF 85 | The Movie Waffler

New to MUBI - SUMMER OF 85

summer of 85 review
Two teenage boys strike up an intense relationship in 1980s Normandy.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: François Ozon

Starring: Félix Lefebvre, Benjamin Voisin, Philippine Velge, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Melvil Poupaud, Isabelle Nanty

summer of 85 poster

Like Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name, François Ozon's Summer of 85 is another movie about that first summer romance, the one that simultaneously breaks and opens your heart, the one that teaches you lessons that will affect how you pursue love for the rest of your life. It's adapted from a Young Adult novel from as far back as 1982, Aidan Chambers' 'Dance on My Grave', which caused a stir at the time due to its portrayal of gay teens in love. It's a sign of progress that no such controversy will likely be ignited by Ozon's film, but for young audiences both queer and straight, it should prove universal and timeless in its themes.

summer of 85 review

The film opens with 16-year-old Alexis (Félix Lefebvre), who prefers to go by "Alex" (there's a subtext of France's succumbing to the Anglo-centric pop culture of the era, with a Union Jack prominently displayed in another character's bedroom), in police custody. Breaking the fourth wall, Alex tells us how the movie we're about to watch is the story of a corpse, and the person he knew before they became said corpse.

Backed by a sombre score by Jean-Benoît Dunckel (one half of French electro-pop duo Air), it's a brooding opening to what has been marketed as a sunny teen romance, but immediately Ozon switches tones as we cut to a beach in Normandy, The Cure's 'In Between Days' kicking in as we're plunged into the pastel world of the mid '80s. Alex decides to kick off the summer by taking a borrowed boat out to sea, but his lack of sea legs leave him in trouble when he gets caught in a storm, his boat capsizing. Appearing like a mirage is handsome 18-year-old David (Benjamin Voisin, who has all the feathered hair and cockiness of a young Robert Downey Jr), who rescues Alex, from drowning and possibly from a life of denial.

summer of 85 review

The two instantly bond as friends, and David even gets Alex a summer job working in the boating shop run by his predatory mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, always a welcome presence). Their friendship soon turns into an intense sexual relationship, but Alex is taking it all a little too seriously for David's liking. In the film's most striking scene, Alex dons a walkman while in the middle of a crowded dancefloor and slow dances to Rod Stewart's 'Sailing' while David pogoes manically to the club's high tempo dance track, both young men lost in dance, but to very different beats. When worldly 21-year-old English au pair Kate (Philippine Velge) befriends the two boys, Alex grows intensely jealous, and thoughts of that corpse he referred to come raging back.

A romantic drama that constantly teases an imminent thriller plot, Summer of 85 seems to be taking its cues from the distinctive structure of Jean Becker's 1983 film One Deadly Summer. Both films play out over a French summer in the mid-80s, and both hint at a coming darkness while engaging in frothy frolics. Of course, in both Isabelle Adjani and Voisin's David, both have seductive figures whose intentions we're not quite certain of. With their messy tonal shifts, neither film quite pulls off what it's setting out to achieve, particularly in the case of Summer of 85, as its final act turns out to be largely anti-climactic compared to how Ozon, and particularly Dunckel's moody score, have prepared us for the revelations set up by the film's arresting opening.

summer of 85 review

Remove any hint of a thriller (because it really isn't one) and Summer of 85 would likely be a more satisfying coming-of-age drama. It's distinctive enough in this regard to stand out in this crowded field, particularly in its honesty about how heartbreak is like measles - the younger you contract it, the more prepared for adulthood you'll be. In newcomers Lefebvre, Voisin and Velge, Ozon has unearthed three future stars who perfectly embody the young people they're playing, with their varying levels of confidence and self doubt. While at times Ozon's attempts to appeal to a young audience come off a little too "Oh Grandad" (a set-piece involving Alex in drag is particularly cringey), I suspect the Gallic forthrightness of Summer of 85 and its point blank refusal to patronise or condescend to teenagers will strike a chord with many a young viewer, and may prove an effective gateway to foreign language cinema for teens of a curious nature.

Summer of 85 is on MUBI UK now.