Summer of 85
Directed by François Ozon
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?
Read some risky writing.