REVIEW: Summer of 85 (TIFF 2020)
Falling in love for the first time is a right of passage. There’s no correct way to know it’s happening and no way to prepare — it’s just a part of growing up. Summer of 85, François Ozon’s newest feature, looks at two young men’s euphoric adventure of summer love and the disastrous aftermath that includes a tragic death.
Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler. Ozon’s choice to weave this film in a non-linear fashion immediately informs the viewer that a tragedy is involved. The story of 16 year old Alexis (Félix Lefebvre) and his motorcycle driving, one-earring wearing lover, David (Benjamin Voisin) is charming. The two are inseparable for six weeks. They go to the movies, out sailing on the open sea, to nightclubs with tons of era-appropriate dancing: all while laughing and kissing, basked in each other’s presence. But this all ends after a fight and a fatal motorcycle ride that takes David’s life.
The first and most obvious positive attribute of Summer of 85 is the soundtrack. It includes some upbeat tunes like In Between Days by The Cure, a classic bop that sets the theme for melancholic irony. The most important anthem for Alex is Sailing by Rod Stewart. During two important moments, he hits play on a tape player and the lyrics fall onto his ears. It is very 80s and is an extra element that shows Ozon knows what he’s doing.
At no moment does the camera impose on the couple’s privacy. Unlike many films that involve a gay relationship, there is no sex scene choreographed for the scopophilic eye. This is because the entire film is from Alex’s point-of-view as he recollects the perfect six weeks with David. Those moments are personal and could even be interpreted as a sexual awakening that Alex wants to keep private and entirely to himself.
More media should do this. While sex is nothing to be ashamed of, it fits the main character who is telling the story. These moments of intimacy are not something to broadcast to the world at large and he holds them close. The saturation of unrealistic sex in the media is unnecessary and in this instance, involves two boys who do not need to have their consensual sex broadcast to an audience.
What is most poignant about Summer of 85 is the dreamy realism that completely enveloped me. Even though I was viewing the movie from the comfort of my couch, the choice to shoot this story on 16mm film was noticeable and appreciated. As I watched, I swear I could feel the Normandy sea breeze touch my cheek as I listened to turquoise ocean waves hit the rocky shore. In the same way, the story of Alex and David feels familiar, like it has happened to a dear friend who is recollecting the time they first felt they were in love.
Unlike other films with same sex relationships, the realism is enhanced by the lack of acceptance by the couple’s parents. Though it is never said outright that they object to homosexual relationships, neither character wants their family members to know. Dark humor is sprinkled throughout the runtime but the secret of their love comes around to play a part in the end for a nice touch.
As mentioned before, the film’s story is told out of order. Though a majority of the runtime focuses on the young love of weeks prior, Alex is in trouble in the present. His tired disposition along with his messy hair and lifeless eyes contrast the Alex we see as he holds on to David on the back of his motorcycle. A social worker, his parents, and even one of his teacher’s keep asking for the story of his friendship with David, but he refuses. These moments of darkness allude to a serious crime, but Ozon neatly ties up the conclusion with a touch of irony.
Summer of 85 is a refreshing story of young love that has all the necessary emotions. I found myself laughing often and sympathizing with Alex as he navigates a brand new world of infatuation and bliss. The views of the beach are reason enough to watch this film, but stay for the charming, nostalgic story with the killer soundtrack.