Summer of 85

David and Alex on a motorbike

 

Intense, sexy and brooding, Summer of 85 (Été 85 in the original French) is François Ozon’s latest look at human relationships of a particularly febrile sort, all set in a seaside town at a time when Ozon himself would have been a teenager.

After a languid and deliberately cinematic tracking shot from the water’s edge right up the beach and onto the promenade, Ozon then gives us a smell of what’s about to play out by introducing us to two friends discussing what they’re going to get up to later that day. Both are handsome lads, and seem to be either standing too close to each other, staring too intently at each other or simply giving off too much animal heat. They’re not gay lovers, just friends, but Ozon has primed us for what comes next.

Out in the sea on his own a bit later, one of the two, Alex (Félix Lefebvre), gets into trouble when he capsizes his boat and is later saved by David, a stranger who happens to be sailing by. David, handsome and athletic, with his shirt unbuttoned to reveal a rippling torso, takes Alex, shocked and shivering in his trunks, back to his house for a bit of R&R, where David’s mother helps Alex undress for a restorative hot bath, pausing to remark delightedly on the size of his cock… in a way that is both motherly and inappropriate at the same time.

Somehow pulling off this dextrous feat is Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as the mother, a gossipy sort a world away from VBT’s more usual restrained bourgeois roles. She comes into her own later as the intensity of these early scenes give way to tragedy and the over-sharing matron transforms into something much more vengeful.

 

Alex and David prepare to go out
Beginning of the end: Alex and David

 

Something goes wrong, yes, but we’re not quite sure what it is till near the end of the film, though flash-forwards give us the basics – a tragedy of some sort, David is involved and Alex is being held responsible.

In Ozon’s sensational, much imitated, never bettered 5X2 he teased out a love story in chapters by jumping backwards from the end to the beginning. Here the chronology is more traditional – he’s going forwards in time but he’s doing it similarly in leaps. We get Alex and David’s romance in soundbites, the salty meet-cute, the flirting, the consummation, then the moment when things start to sour, punctuated by a friendship that Alex strikes up with an English au pair (Philippine Velge) he meets on the beach (or, more to the point, who forces herself on him), a friendship that proves catalytic and fateful.

Having done love in chunks, Ozon then does the grief in chunks too, keeping from us the what and the who for as long as he can and giving the film a powerful dramatic tug.

In films like Swimming Pool and In the House and also, to an extent, Frantz, Ozon displayed a fascination for stories about obsessive, often destructive desire, and he does it again here, though it must be said that he seems more at ease with the love than the grief.

It’s also a portrait of a time, the mid-1980s, when a song like The Cure’s In Between Days, which features on the soundtrack, would have been heard everywhere. (Incidentally, Ozon was going to call the film Summer of 84 until The Cure’s Robert Smith pointed out that the song was released in 1985 – Ozon changed the film’s title).

Perhaps best of all is the way Ozon captures the feeling of impermanence in a seaside town in summer, where minds giddy on the smell of sunscreen embark on random relationships that lead into uncharted waters.

 

 

Summer of 85 – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2021

 

 

In the House

Claude and Esther

If you’ve seen 5X2, you’ll already know that François Ozon makes immensely clever and highly entertaining films, and that there’s a point to the cleverness; he’s not just showing off. In the House, aka Dans La Maison, is Ozon to the bone, another very clever piece of work. This time, however, the point he’s making is far less immediately obvious.

5X2 was a love story played out backwards, the point being that, “forearmed” as we were with the knowledge that the relationship would crumble, we saw the couple in question’s first stirrings of love, courtship, marriage, honeymoon and so on through entirely different eyes. Here Ozon plays a similar trick, taking a Cuckoo in the Nest plot and wrapping it up in an examination of fiction and truth.

Fabrice Luchini plays Germain Germain, a jaded teacher of French who is wading through the marking of “what I did at the weekend” essays one night when he comes across something submitted by one of his pupils. It’s a startling story of how Claude, one of his teenage charges, courted fellow pupil Rapha, so he could gain access to the boy’s house, where he seems to have been leering after the kid’s mother Esther, (played by Emmanuelle Seigner). Unsettled, the teacher shows his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) the unusual and seemingly confessional essay. She is as intrigued as he, but also appalled. Next day the teacher upbraids the boy for his stalking, who instead of backing down hands him the next instalment of the story, which ends, like the first one, with “A suivre…” (to be continued).

Aagainst his better judgment, the teacher reads on, and becomes completely, becoming not just an avid follower of the boy’s increasingly lurid exploits (is he going to seduce the mother? the son? surely not the father?), not just his literary mentor, but also, bit by bit, an agent provocateur. Ozon symbolises this brilliantly, by having Luchini suddenly popping up inside the boy’s retelling of his story to offer pointers.

Claude and Germain
Claude and Germain?


Inside this vicious circle or feedback loop, on the one hand there’s a Damien tale of a monster inside a humdrum middle class family’s life. On the other there’s the teacher’s reactions to that story, and the effect his reactions have on the development of the boy’s story. And all the while the boy’s story is progressively taking over the teacher’s life. Fact and fiction become hopelessly intertwined, with the only seeming certainty being that, as is said several times, “the world needs stories”.

There is a student essay in here for someone with an interest in structuralism or deconstruction (both of which more or less take the view that nothing is certain or natural and that everything is made up – it’s all a big story).

For those of a more pragmatic, empirical nature, this is also a highly entertaining bit of farce, with Luchini perfectly cast – all hangdog one second, raised eyebrow the next – as the teacher in beyond the elbow, an invert of the Lolita figure of Humbert Humbert having rings run around him by an “innocent” kid. Ernst Umhauer plays the teenager, cleverer by far than his teacher, an inspired bit of casting – creepy, smooth skinned, attractive, with a hint of a smile that could be amusement or malice. Bisexual? Maybe. Unsettling is Ozon’s intention, I suspect, and Umhauer is certainly that.

Everyone else, including Scott Thomas and Emmanuelle Seigner, is a footnote. Apart, that is, from the father of the dolt, also called Rapha, played as a man so charged up with manly testosterone by Denis Ménochet, as so “natural” and unmediated in his actions and reactions that he stands in complete contradiction to the fey “everything is fictional” posturing of everyone else. And that, surely, is the point of Ozon’s film – there is fiction, there is fact and if we lose the distinction, we’re lost. French philosophers of the post 1968 tradition take note.



In the House – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2012