Summer of 85 is now showing in cinemas nationwide and on Curzon Home Cinema.
Benjamin Disraeli once said, “The magic of our first love is our ignorance that it can never end”. Anyone looking back on those first intense feelings of love wrapped in a shield of invulnerability could hardly disagree. After all, youth itself is an impenetrable bubble of hope, freedom and desire, our first love for another laced with feelings of envy, lust, jealousy and joy. However, as any world-weary adult will tell you, those first feelings of love rarely find longevity due to the reality of life bursting the bubble of hope. But, what if you never have the time for those realities to dawn as your first love is swept away in an instant? And what if that first love is not only your world but the spark of hope in your emerging sexuality?
These themes find a powerful and beautiful voice in François Ozon’s Summer of 85. In a film that buzzes with the electricity of first love, the confusion of attraction and the explosion of emerging sexuality. While at the same time exploring the fragile moment where the reality of adult life bursts through the bubble of youthful hope and desire.
Based on the 1982 novel Dance on My Grave by Aidan Chambers, set initially in the UK. François Ozon transports the story to Northern France where 16-year-old Alex (Félix Lefebvre) sits in the no man’s land between the end of school and adult life. Here Alex is attempting to decide whether to remain in school or join his father in the dockyards. But this decision is also wrapped in the heat of teenage desire and a need to break free of sexual constraints.
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On a leisurely, solo trip out to sea on his friend’s small boat, Alex capsizes in a freak and sudden storm. However, luckily for Alex, an enigmatic and charming 18-year-old named David (Benjamin Voisin) comes to his rescue. David quickly takes the wet and cold Alex back to his home for fresh clothes and a warm bath. But for Alex, his rescuer opens the door to intrigue and lust. This door, once opened, quickly leads to a new and intense friendship before developing into something far more intoxicating.
Now at this point, you may be thinking Summer of 85 is just another gay coming-of-age love story. However, from the outset, François Ozon points to something much darker. Here Ozon’s movie echoes the complexity of Christophe Charrier’s I Am Jonas. The film’s opening scenes of Alex bound in handcuffs, awaiting trial, similar to the thrilling and scary vision that opens Charrier’s film. These similarities thread through Summer of 85, from the sparks of love surrounded by tragedy to the flashbacks of a summer of love, intrigue and experimentation.
The result is a picture that delves into the pain of separation, the unbridled joy of first love and the uncontrollable anger of adolescent grief. Here where the performance of Félix Lefebvre is nothing short of exceptional, from his wide-eyed portrait of first love to the pain of separation that ensues. While at the same time, he displays the complexity of coming out in 80s France with stunning clarity and depth.
Félix Lefebvre stars in SUMMER OF 85
Each moment between Alex and David is held in the vibrant colours of summer, the secretive nature of their intense affair brought to life through stolen kisses and backroom fumbles when nobody is watching. Here the secrecy of their physical and emotional connection reflects the experience of many gay and lesbian teens as they enter their first relationships. But, this intensity and heat is also rooted in Alex’s memories as our narrator, with their bond held in a haze of rose-tinted wonder. Here the image of joy and freedom presented to us sits in Davids memory, rather than the reality of experience.
Meanwhile, the darkness at the heart of the film is also held firmly in the emotional prism of adolescence. Here the intensity of Alex’s grief and loss is bound to the confusion and turmoil of youth. In its sun-drenched reflection of first love, Summer of 85 is bound to draw comparisons to Call Me By Your Name. However, Summer of 85 could not be more different in its style and delivery. Here Ozon creates his own unique portrait of 80s gay teen life. His delicate yet powerful commentary on the emotional constraints of gay youth during the 1980s assured and creative in delivery.
Director: François Ozon