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 their first intense feelings of love and the shield of invulnerability we placed around them could hardly disagree. But our first love is often laced with envy, lust, jealousy and joy, and as any world-weary adult will tell you, those first feelings rarely find longevity due to the sharp reality that life and love move quickly when you’re a teenager. For those of us who identify as LGBTQ+, those first feelings are also wrapped in our emerging sexuality and the fear of being different. For us, the emotions attached are even more jagged and sharp as we attempt to navigate love, coming out and a fear of parental and social rejection. These themes find a powerful and beautiful voice in François Ozon’s Summer of 85.
Based on the 1982 novel Dance on My Grave by Aidan Chambers, Ozon transports the British set story to Northern France, where 16-year-old Alex (Félix Lefebvre) sits in the no man’s land between the end of school and the start of an adult life of college or work. Alex’s decision is simple, should he remain in school or join his father in the dockyards? But this decision is also wrapped in the hormonal energy of adolescence and the burning need to break free from his family life and find himself. While ruminating on his future during a solo trip to sea on his friend’s small boat, Alex capsizes in a freak and sudden storm. All seems lost as the waves swallow the boat until an enigmatic and charming 18-year-old named David (Benjamin Voisin) comes to his rescue. David takes the wet and cold Alex home for fresh clothes and a warm bath. But for Alex, his rescuer is far more than just a hero; he is a door to feelings he has tried to keep submerged for so long – now that door is open, what starts as an intense friendship soon develops into something far more intoxicating and close.
READ MORE: I AM JONAS
You may be wondering if Summer of 85 is just another gay coming-of-age love story, but anyone familiar with François Ozon will know that nothing is simple or straightforward in his cinematic universe. Ozon’s movie echoes the complexity of Christophe Charrier’s I Am Jonas as the opening scenes place Alex in handcuffs and awaiting trial. The similarity with Charrier’s work thread through Summer of 85, from the first sparks of love to a deep sense of foreboding and the flashbacks to a summer of young love and experimentation. Far from being a mere coming-of-age love story, Ozon delves into the pain of separation, the unbridled joy of first love and the uncontrollable anger of adolescent grief through a captivating performance from Félix Lefebvre.
Félix Lefebvre stars in SUMMER OF 85
Every moment we spend with Alex and David is coated in the vibrant colours of summer, as the secretive nature of their intense affair is brought to life through stolen kisses and risky backroom fumbles. The secrecy of this connection reflects the experience of many gay and lesbian teens as they enter their first relationships and search for companionship in a world where holding someone’s hand can prove risky. But the intensity and heat of Alex and David’s relationship are also held within Alex’s memory as our sole narrator. Knowing how the film opens, you also know that much of what we see must be a rose-tinted perspective of a boy in love for the first time, the colours hiding a much darker truth. Here elements of Summer of 85 play like Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End (1970) as an uneasy feeling permeates the coming-of-age tropes Ozon chooses to embrace.
With its sun-drenched tale 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 as Ozon delves into the prism of the teenage mind and the fear of being gay during the 80s. Here we offered something classically French in construction, a series of adolescent memories, hopes and dreams that end just as summer begins its march to Autumn.
Director: François Ozon