TIFF 2020

Summer of 85 review – a poor man’s Call Me by Your Name

This oddly arranged film from French auteur François Ozon feels like a missed opportunity, failing to find either romance or thrills

Somewhere in Southern France, 1985. Fans of Call Me By Your Name might flock to François Ozon’s summer escape, a story of a whirlwind young love taking place over one dangerous holiday, but Summer of 85 has comparatively little to offer in the way of authentic, so-raw-you-might-taste-it romance. This wistful love story feels more dated than nostalgic, offering a time capsule of an out-of-touch relationship imagined by a person still stuck in the past.

A lot of the same ingredients of the genre endure, though – there are two young boys, Alexis (Felix Lefebvre) and David (Benjamin Voisin); a sudden attraction; the lazy heat of a Mediterranean escape; a devastating separation. But the elements that could, and should, make this story one of heartbreaking empathy are somehow absent, flattened into a scattershot portrait of weary stereotypes.

Here are two boys, once more, who need to be saved. But their fascination with death and oblivion feels tailor-made for fiction, rather than holding any credible threat to their humanity. Alexis in particular is fatalistic and verbose, glumly telling the audience directly how and why David changed his life.

But he tells us these in monologues that feel stuffy, written by adults imagining the flustered urgency of falling in love for the first time without actually remembering how vivid and how unpredictable it really does feel. Cliches about escaping your own story, loving the idea of a person more their reality, clinging onto guilt instead of living your life – these are all valid and complex ideas, but Ozon merely dictates them to his actors rather than bringing to life the consequences of these thoughts.

Visually, too, Summer of 85 feels closer to a 1980s TV drama (Claude Pinoteau’s La Boum, a touchstone in French teen cinema, successfully achieved what this film seems to be attempting), out of focus and muted, than the sparkling, super-8 holiday postcards we might hope for. It feels like a missed opportunity – as it does when the promise of a youth swirling in the dangerous and electric culture of the 1980s only plays Rod Stewart’s “Sailing” and a grand total of one song by The Cure to soundtrack these halcyon days.

“Do we invent the people we love?” Alexis asks, a valid question that has given filmmakers a world of opportunity to tell some of the finest, most overwhelming stories ever put to screen. But Summer of 85 asks more than it answers, without ever showing it understands the questions at all. To honour a confused and erratic youth is one thing, but this film feels like a mockery of such innocence more than anything else.

Summer of 85 was screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2020.

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