Summer of 85 AKA Été 85 (original title) Music Box Films

Directed By: François Ozon

Starring: Félix Lefebvre, Benjamin Voisin, Philippine Velge, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi

Plot summary: When Alexis (Félix Lefebvre) capsizes off the coast of Normandy, David (Benjamin Voisin) comes to the rescue and soon opens the younger boy’s eyes to a new horizon of friendship, art, and sexual bliss. Their seaside summer fling lasts just six weeks, but casts a shadow over a lifetime in François Ozon’s sexy, nostalgic reverie of first love and its consequences.

As much as “woke” Hollywood wants to pat itself on the back, LGBTQIA stories are still way underrepresented in cinema. Even the scraps of inclusion we do get seems to still follow rather regressive tropes. As a Queer film writer, it’s often, “take what you can get” sadly.  However, it seems that foreign films always were and remain way more cutting edge in terms of inclusion. It’s also refreshing to have a story not only directed by a gay director but also features both gay and bisexual characters. Given the bright, carefree poster for Summer of 85, you might be forgiven for mistaking this for a breezy romantic outing. Indeed, Ozon wastes no time in throwing you right into the end result of some harrowing events. Told in fragments, we learn what exactly happened in this heartbreaking story of doomed love. François Ozon does a fantastic job at hooking the audience from the very first minute. Though Félix Lefebvre’s opening narration technically spoils the ending somewhat, Summer still manages to weave a compelling story.

It’s also an engaging mystery as Ozon slowly fills in the pieces. Not only does Ozon embody the ‘80s in a realistic way, but he manages to capture not only what it feels like to be young and in love. Taking this a step further, he perfectly encapsulates the thrilling excitement and danger of forbidden love. Scenes like Alexis and David sneaking around, stealing kisses and more are intoxicating but also sad because something so natural as love sometimes has to be kept hidden. Wisely, François also makes room for some moments of carefree innocence to juxtapose the more tragic elements.

Photo Credit: Music Box Films

The film does a great job from a technical standpoint. Cinematographer Hichame Alaouie (Horses of God) not only uses some impressive tracking shots and inventive camera work but shoot’s it’s French locales to their utmost beauty.  There is also a nice, and extremely well thought out color palette with warm colors that highlight the scenes where David and Alexis first start going out contrasted perfectly with cold almost washed-out colors used in more harrowing moments. As much as I think this is a great movie, it’s not without its missteps. The motif of death and Alexis’s obsession with it is a tad bit on the nose for its own good. I feel like it does needless heavy-lifting in telegraphing the themes. Tonally, there are some things that also feel out of place. For example, there is a moment involving David’s mother where she aggressively comes onto Alexis. Not only does this feel wildly out of place, but it never actually pays off either thematically or narrative.  Also, as good as the first two acts are I think the third could have used a tighter focus. Though, I will say that I adored how the movie perfectly bookends. You can clearly tell this is the work of a good storyteller.

Photo Credit: Music Box Films

Félix Lefebvre and Benjamin Voisin truly make this film. And, while both leads do a fantastic job, it’s Lefebvre who leaves his bloody heart on the celluloid. His performance is equal parts brave, heartbreaking and, in my humble opinion, Oscar worthy. Though she has the less showy role, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi does a fantastic job as David’s mother. It also includes a fantastic supporting cast of Isabella Nanty, Philippine Velge and Laurent Fernandez etc.

Summer of 85 may have its flaws, but ultimately, it’s a harrowing, heartbreaking and beautifully uplifting Queer-centric film. Hollywood could certainly take some lessons.

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