Alexis Robin has been getting bad grades in high school for a while, he has looked for some other problem with the law and is not clear about his future. What he does have is 16 years old and a father who does not know him. A mortar of silences and disagreements has ended up building a wall between them that his mother is unable to bridge in either direction. You feel lost and discouraged.
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One fine day, the young man sets sail on a small sailboat, but falls asleep in the sun and is suddenly caught in a summer storm. The boat ends up overturned and he is about to die. Then David Gorman appears on the scene: a young man his age who, after saving his life, begins to discover for Alexis a world of desire and sexual liberation that he did not know.
The new film by François Ozon, probably the most prolific French director on the current scene, is presented to us in his posters and promotional images as a tale of homosexual and adolescent initiation, but he soon makes it clear that he is also a thriller whose referents pose a very different tone than expected.
The talent of Mr. Robin
“I must be crazy. I should have realized it a long time ago. Only a crazy person would choose death as a hobby. Be careful, I said ‘crazy’, not ‘crazy’. I’m not upset. Corpses do not suit me. Death interests me, with a capital eme, “says Alexis during the opening bars of Ozon’s new tape. The young man is handcuffed and in a police station, but the viewer ignores the reasons.
From the start, Ozon raises Summer of ’85 like a romantic narrative built around a mystery. An alleged crime whose nature we do not know, but which permeates the images with a halo of tension from now on.
An uncertainty enhanced by a narrator that we do not know if he is reliable, being a teenager, being confused and having a fickle character. And propped up by a montage of temporary jumps that reignite the pressure when the story borders on the affectedly mellifluous. In such a way that the film develops being carried away by uncomfortable but interesting contrasts.
The strangeness of the ensemble contributes in no small measure to the fact that the Alexis Robin played by Félix Lefebvre seems a modern reflection of the Mr. Ripley played by Alain Delon in Full sun by René Clément when we have the information. A character that Matt Damon would later interpret even better and with more nuances in The talent of Mr. Ripley by Anthony Minghella. Moreover, his relationship with David Gorman dialogues with the one that the protagonist of both establishes with Philippe Greenleaf, played by Maurice Ronet and Jude Law in their respective versions.
Both films adapted Patricia Highsmith’s most famous novel, translating into images – with uneven results – the writer’s skill in narrating the attraction and homoeroticism between the two young people, as well as the arming, self-hatred and misogyny that guide the acts of Ripley in the original novel.
As if of a contemporary bastard son of The talent of Mr. Ripley it was, Summer of ’85 overcomes forced arming to narrate the sexual liberation of a young man devoted to discovering himself despite his father’s misunderstanding. But keeping an enigmatic background and a tempo for purely ‘Highsmithian’ intrigue.
Another summer tale
On the other hand, Summer of ’85 it is also a romance between two men who feel comfortable between the textures and patterns cut by the eighties that Luca Guadagnino made an icon in Call me by your name. The long shadow of the phenomenon in the Elio and Oliver story is projected here in hedonistic dance scenes, youth costumes and gaits, as well as in staging conceptions that refer to what would already be commonplace.
However, the setting of the story located in Le Tréport, a coastal town in Upper Normandy, its streets and promenades, its houses and shops of souvenirs constantly refer to Saint-Malo, the town of French Brittany where it was set Summer tale by Éric Rohmer.
The connection with this French filmmaker, in fact, seems anything but casual: in the conception of the dialogues, in the conversations that these young lost but eager to find their place in the world have, constant bridges are built between Ozon’s work. and that of his compatriot.
The depression and the inability to express concrete feelings that Alexis feels could remind the one who lives the protagonist of the wonderful The green ray. And the affective relationships that are woven between him, David and a third person, a young British woman named Kate and played by Philippine Velge, are reminiscent of more than one of those told in Rohmer’s tales of the four seasons. Summer tale Y Summer of ’85, in fact, they even share an actor: the always solvent and empathetic Melvil Poupaud.
From the strange hybrid between the spirit of Éric Rohmer and the sinew of Patricia Highsmith could well be born Summer of ’85. And that is its greatest merit: escaping both the mold of the adolescent story and that of the thriller classic to provide an irregular text, full of contrasts and, yet, always suggestive.