Film response: Été 85/Summer of 85

Été 85
Summer of 85
Directed by François Ozon
2020, France

Original version published on Letterboxd.

I admit I may be missing something but François Ozon’s autocritical nostalgia trip attempts a dialectic and ends up as a strange balancing act between satire and sentiment. It frequently tips way too far one way or the other, often inside scenes, for no reason that I could discern. Out of fear, lack of focus, or intellectual overreach, I have no idea. But it put me off.

I didn’t understand the tonal shifts at all and the the narrative’s shakiness is exacerabated by Alex (the central character) being written as a cipher. He seems to have been created for the sole purpose of being a “cute young twink.” Take your pick: That’s either a cop out, more autocritique, or just bad writing,

The sexy asshole that he’s in love with is better delineated but only for the purpose of humiliating Alex, it appears. The couple acts up a storm during the breakup scene, however, making their relationship feel solid for once, as if there were stakes.

When you see a character being deliberately cruel and hating himself for it, and his target breaking down in tiny, angry pieces, the script and performances transcend the 80s set and emerge as something uniquely powerful and true. For a reason, it’s shot in close-up and medium close-up in a cluttered storeroom.

Aside from that one scene, the majority of the others involving the couple follow the expected pattern of visual cliches for representing young gay male love, including the overused one of riding double ona motorcycle. I know it happens — because I experienced it myself — but can we retire it, please, or shoot it differently? At least there isn’t a rolling-around-on-a-beach-at-night scene.

When David the Asshole dies comically and perfunctorily, we find out he’s Jewish, for some reason — Alex calls his house and David’s clearly bipolar Mom, implausibly, answers the phone at David’s wake.

Later Alex fulfills a silly promise to David, which may have been yet another trap for Alex. First, by having a violent fit on top of the unmarked grave and later by dancing bizarrely in front of it.

He seems to be channeling Michael Jackson, Gene Kelly, and Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer all at once. The dance is made all the more outrageous by taking place in a Jewish cemetery. (So that’s why the script needs David to be Jewish!) Later, in a tacked-on courtroom scene, Alex gets off easy for that desecration. Because, well, pat plot resolution, I guess.

Oh, I almost forgot. There’s a young British expat speaking horrible French inserted artificially into the proceedings now and then, whom David turns into a sexual weapon against Alex. She reappears briefly after David’s death in scenes with Alex that are so spectacularly bad, stupid, and unmotivated that I assumed they were dream sequences or fantasies. But, I suppose, very 80s. Alex dons drag so that he can sneak into the morgue and throw himself on David’s dead body. Yes, really.

There’s an odd attitude toward death in this movie that may be the origin of all the mood swings. I just don’t have the patience or interest to analyze them.

Writing this, I don’t honestly even remember how it ends. Maybe someone can remind me?

  • I don’t know but this seems congruent with Ozone’s other films. He just loves those characters who aren’t kept in line by the bounds of bourgeois society and express it in the most self-destructive ways at their disposal. He knows that the major part of the audience is trapped by propriety and they want to see someone who exceeds its limits even if they get smacked in the face for indulging it and find themselves encouraging the miscreant all along. It’s what makes David so attractive to Alex in Summer of 85 — he’s his antithesis. And even all those gay cliches you point out can still be lived again through the eyes and the protected experience of an innocent. David is just like the fashion photographer in Time to Die who starts tearing his life apart when he finds out his has 4 to 6 months to live after a brain cancer diagnosis alienating all those that could comfort him, the same way the teenage girl in Young and Beautiful rushes headlong into high class prostitution once she discovers she has something others want and keeps going back to it even when she’s caught and threatened by the authorities, how the protagonist in Water Drops on Burning Rocks simply rips through the lives of all those around him and especially by the author who imagines all the tragedy and foolishness she lavishes onto the characters in her imagination that will soon adorn her books in Swimming Pool. Yes, it’s romantic to glorify death and the kind of personality that leads to it willingly and joyfully, but it shakes the ordinary world up for a while and gives the director events for hope and glory just so he can come back at them with an ending that always leads to “vanity, vanity, all is vanity.”

    • Acknowledging all that you write about Ozon’s characters, I have to say, as someone who has lived a life outside bourgeois norms but never became a nihilist, David is the most boring of all of those you mention, if not the most unpleasant.

      • David shows that he had to travel through the towing the respectability road and doing what others expect of you when he admits that he was a student of Mr. Lefevre’s also. He even quotes the gay poet Rimbaud, which he got from the same teacher that Alex has now and who refuses to cooperate with the authorities when they ask him to weigh in on explaining Alex’s inexplicable behavior at David’s grave site. The fact that David never mentioned that he was Jewish speaks volumes, because of all the systems of prohibition that surround the two boys it’s probably the oldest, most ancient, the one that ultimately expresses itself in the eschatological terms that invite it when someone dies. Alex suspects that David probably had sex with the drunk boy they followed together, whom he kept out with until 4am. Together he and David kept the drunkj out of harm’s way but it’s not until David cheats on him with a female that he goes crazy because at least with the drunk boy he was continuing to transgress in a male to male way. OK, you say you think it’s boring but that’s so subjective it only ends up in the “he said/he said” arena.” One man’s boredom is another man’s meditation. I’m just saying.,

        • Of course. But I didn’t say I was bored by the movie itself — mostly I was bemused. I just said that compared to Ozon’s other characters you mention, David is the least interesting. I guess my main problem with this particular film is that it seems to have been put together by rubber bands. Very little was convincing to me.

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