Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Almost nothing but summer lies. Almost...

I finally rented the British love story, My Summer of Love, and found, much to my surprise, that it was not a mere coming of age love song that the previews would have you mistake it for. Instead I was treated to an hour and a half of pure visual bliss. Fields of flowers and mossy brooks, all caught with the same salivating gaze. This is what summer love looks like, and it brought to mind one of my favorite not-coming-of-age, though-we-would-have-you-believe-so-to-market-this film, Presque Rien (distributed in the states as Come Undone but literally, Almost Nothing). The greatness of both films lies in the fact that they are NOT coming age films, nor are they truly love stories.

That My Summer Of Love would initially have you believe so is one of the important deceptions of the film. Because, as we soon discover, both girls are playing with a greater deck of cards than we would have imagined from the get go. Fifteen minutes into the film, the girls are discussing Nietzsche and Freud, albeit with a vibrant and youthful pessimism, and we realize that, what the girls see in one another is not idyllic romance, but a displaced mourning. To each girl, the other is a replacement for a family member who has recently died (For Mona, her mother, who died of Cancer; For Tamsin, her sister, who succumbed to anorexia). This devotion, rooted in projection, swells to a physical relationship, but at no moment does the film allow you to forget the yearning that instigated this bond and the asexual role of each girl's predecessor. Even during the sex scenes, you cannot claim that My Summer of Love is a lesbian film. The girls are emotional replacements, not lovers.

Though it is misleading to have you believe this film is maudlin. Far from it. The visual style of the film glows with the vibrant pulse of summer's scorching sun. The camera cannot sit still, but must close in and retreat from the faces of our protagonists. There's a scene where both girls sit perched on a hill of flowers, as they lean back into the flowers, they disappear from the narrative completely. For a moment, both are gone and we are treated to a pastoral view of the town, yet they refuse their seeming absence by the trace smoke which one exhales, shrouded in the flowers. The film is like that scene. Even when apart, the two are somehow together. In the few shots that include neither, their presence is always near, perhaps in the adjacent room

The boys in Presque Rien have it a bit worse off. Where My Summer of Love is a world drenched in a golden glow, that same sun beats down on the French seaside town of Pornichet. It is a sun that blinds the eyes with its flaxen wash. Likewise, the two boys barely reach the level of vibrant intimacy shared by Mona and Tamsin. Mathieu, who is vacationing with his sick mother and bitchy sister (with papa mysteriously absent), allows the roguish Céderic into his world. Céderic shows him around town, where he (like Mona) resides, not merely vacations (like Tamsin and Mathieu). He drifts from summer job to summer job, leaving a trail of ex-lovers for Mathieu to discover. Told in a very non-linear fashion (I know non-linear is the new linear, but itrulyly works here) the film documents Mathieu's attempted suicide and the preceding summer romance that transpired between the two. For Céderic is the replacement for stability that Mathieu so yearns for, and Mathieu, ambition for the lost Céderic. It is this desperate desire for these missing elements that bring the two together, rather than a want of typical summer love.

The film, directed by Sebastien Lifshitz, who is certainly one of the most underrated directors working today, has a similar mesmeric quality, though I would use the word haunting here, rather than glowing. His visuals shield more than they reveal. Even in a seemingly sober scene like the love scene in the sand dunes which is blanched in throbbing sunlight, the editing rips from the exchange a certain intentionality that these two would seem to share off camera. And here lies the great difference between the two. My Summer of Love is a film that exists solely within its frame. There is no time between scenes, no allusion to the unseen. Like I said, when the girls lean back on the hill, narratively speaking, they cease to exist. Presque Rien forces you to imagine that which is not depicted. A great majority of the narrative is abstracted and absent, leaving you with the results of acts that you have never seen. There is no dramatic scene with a bottle of pills, nor is there one in which the two discuss their love. Yet both, in their own way, are remarkable (and deceptive) depictions of the desperateness of yearning youth. Of course, the venue of Summer love is a fantastic one to locate these quests, and in both cases, you get far more than you ever thought you were asking for.

It is also worthy of note that both have FANTASTIC soundtracks by 2 wonderful bands. My Summer of Love uses languid snippets of Goldfrapp (back when they were good) which fuse perfectly with the film's images. Similarly, the somber(and relatively unknown, outside of France) music of Perry Blake illustrates a perfect marriage of image and soundtrack. If you don't know Blake's work, I highly recommend it.


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