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 a weird balancing act between satire and sentiment. It often tips way too far one way or the other, often inside scenes, for no reason that I could tell. 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 wobbly nature of the narrative isn’t helped much by Alex (the central character) being written as a cipher. He seems to have been created for the exclusive requirement of “cute young twink.” That’s either a cop out, more autocritique, or just bad writing, take your pick.

The sexy asshole that he’s in love with is better delineated but for the sole purpose, it seems, of humiliating Alex. The couple acts up a storm during the breakup scene. Watching a character being deliberately cruel and hating himself for it, and his target breaking down in tiny, angry pieces, well, that’s when the script and the performances push aside the 80s mise en scene and emerge as something uniquely powerful and true. It’s shot in close-up and medium close up in a cluttered storeroom for a reason.

Other than that one scene, most of the others featuring the couple run through the expected collection of visual cliches for young gay male love, including the overused one of riding double on a motorbike. 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.

Then David dies comically and perfunctorily, we find out he’s Jewish, for some reason, when 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, made all the more outrageous by its happening in a Jewish cemetery. (So that’s why the script needs David to be Jewish!) Alex gets off easy for that desecration, later in a tacked-on courtroom scene. Because 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 comes back briefly post-David’s death in scenes with Alex that are so spectacularly bad, stupid, and unmotivated that I thought they were dream sequences or fantasies. But: very 80s, I guess. Alex dons drag in order to throw himself on dead David’s body in a morgue. 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 tell me.

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