Located on the rocky coasts of a seaside town in Normandy, François Ozon’s Summer 85 (★★★★ ☆) signals a clear warning from the start that whatever friendship or romance that blossoms between teenage Alexis and David is not going to end well for at least one of them. them. Adaptation of the young adult novel by British author Aidan Chambers Dance on my grave, published in 1982, Ozon unfolds their love story with the sinister overtones of a deadly mystery.
Historically speaking, something deadly was brewing for them and for bright young people like the boys in the original novel, who would have had no idea of the looming HIV and AIDS at the dawn of the decade. By moving the story’s date by just a few years, Ozon adds a subtext of danger that the film never has to recognize.
Hindsight does the work for it, because we gradually understand that Alexis (Félix Lefebvre) and David (Benjamin Voisin) can each constitute a serious danger for the other, or for himself. But who will strike the first blow?
Alexis, the younger of the two, seems the first struck, literally and figuratively, presented with his haggard and bruised angelic face. The film bounces back and forth between before and after the event that led to this disgrace, and generally his battered face is our first and best clue as to what we’re watching. Anchoring the shifting narrative, Lefebvre’s brilliant performance as Alexis captures the anger that boils beneath the boy’s still waters, as well as the innocence that draws David to him, after the older, more gregarious teenager saves Alexis. and his sailboat capsized in a storm.
From their chance encounter on rough seas, to roller coasters at a beachside amusement park, and trips through the countryside on the back of David’s motorbike, their teenage summer is virtually perfect. Alexis, known as Alex to her new friend, even gets a job at the marine and boating shop run by David’s extremely supportive single mother, Ms. Gorman (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi).
Ozon, a master in these summers no two (see Pool), has fun filling Alex and David’s world with the trappings of nostalgia that can compress a consuming affair into a season or a school year. Alex and David bond to the beats of Bananarama and The Cure. A scene of the pair getting lost in each other’s eyes as they pogo down a crowded French New-Wave dance floor is what young lovers dream of as they scribble in their notebooks. “I wanted to spend every second of my life with him,” Alex says in a bright photo of the two leaping from David’s sailboat into the dappled sea of the setting sun.
Despite all the natural beauty of the surroundings and the often undressed actors, Ozon never really lets us let our guard down. David’s mother insists too much on Alex paying attention to her son. Then, an attractive young woman enters the scene, the English tourist Kate (Philippine Velga), whose interest in David seems to be mutual. And, of course, there’s Alex’s bloody face, a police investigation, and Alex’s ongoing fascination with death. The danger will claim its due, and for those who come out of it unscathed, if not unscathed, other dangers loom on the horizon.
Summer 85 opens Friday, June 25 at the Avalon Theater and Angelika Pop-Up in DC, and Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax, VA. Visit www.theavalon.org or www.angelikafilmcenter.com.
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