Review: François Ozon is Back with Sexy, Sunny, Dramatic 'Summer of '85'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday August 17, 2021

'Summer of '85'
'Summer of '85'  

Openly gay filmmaker François Ozon adapts British writer Aidan Chambers' 1982 young adult novel "Dance on My Grave," turning it into a French romantic drama about two teenage boys exploring sex and commitment.

"Summer of '85" ("Été 85") - as Ozon's adaptation is titled - will draw comparisons to "Call Me By Your Name," and not without reason. The locale is scenic; the teenagers are hormonal; the air is alive with the pop music of the time; and there's even a young woman, an English au pair, to provide some hetero-curious experimentation (and some friction between the lovers).

But "Summer of '85" is very much its own film, and told in its own style. The adaptation has a novelistic feel, partly due to a voiceover by Alex (Félix Lefebvre), an aspiring writer who's faced with the need to choose between continuing on with his education or leaving school at the age of 16 in order to begin working. His working man father (Laurent Fernandez) prefers the latter; his mother (Isabelle Nanty), as mothers will, only wants for him to be happy.

That's a maternal wish, also, from Madame Gorman (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), the spirited (and somewhat boundaries-free) mother of Alex's new friend, David (Benjamin Voisin). David's devil-may-care attitude, easy confidence, and interest in Alex quickens the young man's pulse. After a chance meeting at sea during a thunderstorm, the young men become fast friends; within days Alex is working at the store owned by David's family, and he's spending nights in David's bed.

We know from the beginning that David won't survive the summer, and that Alex is in trouble with the law. The question of what eventually happens to bring the story to such a place propels the film. Alex's angsty meditations on death (he's fascinated with the subject) feel almost too weighty, and risk putting too much drag on the story, but Ozon wisely focuses on sunshine and youthful abandon. This is in part, to give the film loft, but also to create a contrast between the giddy joy of first love and the wrenching pain of loss.

Like certain other filmmakers - David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino - Ozon has a gift for creating moments that simultaneously horrify and amuse, and he does it with such sureness that the film's most outrageous twists (one of which sees Alex dressing as a girl to trespass on a mortuary) feel earned and of a piece with the overall atmosphere. What could have been a tawdry jest becomes a statement on the confusions of love and grief.

As such, the film fits right into Ozon's oeuvre. The director behind "Double Lover," "Frantz," "The Girlfriend," and many other movies that pull off balancing acts between romance (usually gay) and any given genre (war drama, thriller, domestic comedy) achieves another triumph.

"Summer of '85" is coming to VOD and Blu-ray and DVD beginning August 17th by Music Box Films Home Entertainment

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.