Adolescence, feelings of love, death, the power of cinematographic writing at the heart of one of the filmmaker’s best films. A haunting film like a summer song.
very first time
Summer 85 is the nineteenth film by François Ozon, but it is in fact his very first. In the mid-1980s, the director entered adulthood and read The Cuckoo Dancea 1982 teen novel by Aidan Chambers.
Considered one of the first books aimed at young people relating, without condemning, a homosexual love story, it depicts the romance between two young English boys living in a small seaside town east of London.
We imagine that his reading had a profound effect on the young Ozon. He was the same age as these heroes and like them had to discover his sexuality. A budding filmmaker, he decided that the adaptation of this novel would be his first feature film. He even wrote the screenplay, before abandoning the project.
This false “very first time” will nevertheless have a lasting influence on his career, constituting a kind of matrix. With Summer 85we are struck by the extent to which certain obsessions from the novel are found in his films: the difficulty of living one’s homosexuality (Sitcom)adolescence confronted with death (The Criminal Lovers)teaching (Under the sand, In the house)writing (Swimming Pool, Angel)meditation at the grave of the loved one (Franctz) and even the release of a word (Thanks to God).
The first times, even abortive ones, mark with a hot iron. François Ozon ended up making this first film, on 16 mm film, the format he would no doubt have used if he had been able to make it at the time, and by moving his plot to Le Tréport, in Normandy. It is therefore by the way that we hear the sublime tube of Jeanne Mas, very first time.
The lyrics that open the song (“Salt drops have torn the strange pallor of a secret”) resonate with one of the most beautiful scenes of the film, that of the meeting between the two boys. Alexis, 16, a handsome, shy blond with light eyes, literally capsized.
A storm is approaching, he is struggling in rough seas when David, bad boy charmer two years older, pops up like a dream. It is then his heart which capsizes in front of this apparition. He didn’t come out of the water until the secret of his desire had already been revealed to him. He loves it.
However, Summer 85 is not a fairy tale, and even less the bluish adolescent that the first images of the film suggest. It is by pushing the door of a prison that one enters it. We understand it from the first minutes, the love story between the two boys ended badly.
The rest of the film is made up of an embedding of flashbacks, back and forth between the idyllic past of the memory and the morose present of the narration. Multiplying false leads and clues, Summer 85 is built like a puzzle. It is only once the last pieces are in place that we understand the meaning.
The exercise in style is at the heart of the filmography of François Ozon, a filmmaker who likes nothing more than to multiply his incursions into various genres. Here, it is a question of wringing the neck of the teen movie summer, to adulterate its hedonism so that a reflection on death springs from it. It is to the words of another title of the soundtrack of the film that one thinks then, Cruel Summer from Bananarama, and to its chorus: “It’s a cruel, cruel summer / Leaving me here on my own / Now you’re gone. »
A rule of teen movie that François Ozon does not infringe on the other hand is that of the learning story. Growing up means discovering oneself, emancipating oneself and also losing one’s illusions. Coming from a working-class family, Alexis discovers love (and loses it) at the same time as he affirms his penchant for writing.
But rather than throwing yourself headlong into this gap between two ages, Summer 85 never ceases to flirt with the precipice, to move from one pole to the other – memory/present, life/death, freedom/imprisonment, recklessness/guilt – before uniting them around a single question: how to face mourning ?
“Do you think we invent the people we love?”
This is the most beautiful line in the film, which makes it one of the best of its author. Summer 85 is a reflection on death, but not that, biological, of the loved one (new misleading), but rather that of his image. As he asks this question, Alexis realizes that to fall in love is first to fall in love with a fiction of the other. Like his first supernatural appearance, David is a mirage. Alexis idealized him to fall in love with him.
This new complexity of sentimental issues goes beyond the framework of teen movie and made ofSummer 85 a great film on the feeling of love and even on the feeling of self. Because what the film also sketches in hollow is that its hero becomes aware that he himself is a fiction.
By telling his story to the viewer through the film’s voiceover, but also to the social worker, the judge, his French teacher and finally in the novel he is writing, Alexis invents himself, he may even have invented this story.
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This meta reversal of the film is dazzling. It resonates with another part of the film, which at first seemed insignificant to us. We learn early that Alexis is fascinated by Egyptian funeral rites, by the art of embalming. By fixing on paper the memories of his first love (or rather of his image), it is precisely this process of mummification that Alexis practices.
In his text on the ontology of the photographic image, André Bazin made mummification the foundation of artistic practice, of which cinema would be the most perfected tool: “The film is no longer content to keep the object enveloped in its instant like the intact body of insects from a bygone era in amber, it frees Baroque art from its convulsive catalepsy. For the first time, the image of things is also that of their duration and like the mummy of change. »
Summer 85 is the story of this desire for embalming. Under his air of teen movie summery, the film is a vertiginous tale of origins, that of its main character, Alexis, of its author, François Ozon, and of the power of cinema.
Summer 85 by François Ozon, with Félix Lefebvre, Benjamin Voisin, Philippine Velge (Fr., 2020, 1 h 41). In theaters July 14