The Movie Waffler BFI London Film Festival 2023 Review - LAST SUMMER | The Movie Waffler

BFI London Film Festival 2023 Review - LAST SUMMER

Last Summer review
A woman embarks on an affair with her teenage stepson.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Catherine Breillat

Starring: Léa Drucker, Samuel Kircher, Olivier Rabourdin, Clotilde Courau

Last Summer poster

While American remakes of European films are common, it's much rarer to find European remakes of films from other countries of the continent. This is probably largely down to the simple fact that while most Americans are averse to subtitles, Europeans are well accustomed to watching movies in languages other than their own. For a viewer in Spain, watching an American movie is no different to watching one from Belgium. There's also the idea that western Europe shares a cultural outlook that is largely homogenous at this point. There are however subtle differences between European nations which might seem to share a similar cultural point of view, largely holdovers from the continent's religious past.

Such subtle variations can be noted between the Danish film Queen of Hearts and Last Summer, its new French remake by director Catherine Breillat. Both movies are about a middle-aged woman who embarks on a sexual affair with her 17-year-old teenage stepson. Were this story to play out in America, the boy would be underage and it would be a narrative of sexual abuse. In both France and Denmark the act is legal, so it's instead a narrative of wrestling with a moral taboo. Yet while the Danish and French movies share almost identical plots, the Protestant doubt of the former is here traded for Catholic guilt.

Last Summer review

The role previously played so brilliantly by Trine Dyrholm is now occupied by Leá Drucker. Her Anne is a successful lawyer who specialises in cases of sexual assault. The film opens with her coldly preparing a client for the gruelling cross-examinations she is set to receive if she takes her accusations to trial. Anne warns her young client that the defence will do everything they can to make her look like a sexually promiscuous teen given to flights of fancy. It's a scene that will later prove highly ironic.

Fortysomething Anne is in a stable but dull relationship with her slightly older husband Pierre (Olivier Rabourdin), who has one of those ambiguous "something to do with money" jobs French films always seem to foist on middle-aged, middle class figures they wish to represent the boring bourgeoisie (the corresponding character in the more nuanced Danish original was a doctor). Anne, who always seems to have a glass of red in her hand, gives the impression of a bird Pierre managed to long ago cage. While making missionary love, Anne recounts the story of how as a 14-year-old she had a crush on an "old man." She now finds it amusing that the "old man" in question was a mere 33 years old at the time.

Last Summer review

It almost seems as though Anne is mentally preparing and excusing herself for the transgression she's set to commit. That comes when Theo (Samuel Kircher), Pierre's tearaway son from a previous marriage, comes to stay with the couple for the summer. He's a proper wrong 'un, faking a break-in and stealing Anne's handbag and its contents. When Anne catches him out, she makes a pact – if Theo stops acting like an asshole to his father she won't rat him out.

This act on Anne's part seems to light a spark in Theo. If she's willing to keep a secret of this magnitude from her hubby, what else might she be willing to keep between herself and Theo? Thus Theo begins a campaign of aggressive flirting until eventually Anne gives in and the pair end up in bed while Pierre is away on a business trip. In a moment of post-coital clarity, Anne suggests they pretend the incident never happened, but she can't help but give in to Theo's demands. When she later tries to end things permanently, Theo reveals a darker side, putting both Anne's career and marriage in jeopardy.

Last Summer review

Last Summer differs from its predecessor chiefly in its portrayal of Anne's motivations. In the original she's the one who pursues the teen and is ultimately the seducer, whereas here this dynamic is flipped. There are certainly hints that Anne might be up for some transgressive fumblings but unlike her Danish counterpart, she holds back. There's also a key difference between how the two female protagonists are mentally tormented. In the case of Danish Anne, she was struck by doubt. We saw her examining the folds of flesh on her middle-aged body, and listening with a pained expression as her young lover made out with girls of his own generation in the next room. French Anne has no such doubts. Drucker might be 50 but she boasts an athletic figure most 20-year-olds would kill for. When Theo parades a lithe young girl in front of her, she merely smirks. Breillat has opted for a story of a woman who is always in control, whether it be professionally or in her marriage (we see how she knowingly uses her "trophy wife" status to wrap Pierre around her little finger), who now finds herself in danger of having to give in to the manipulations of someone as equally practiced in her dark acts. Both approaches are interesting in their own right, though the Danish version will likely prove the more relatable for female viewers of Anne's vintage.