GFF 2016 Review : Summertime (La belle saison)

Catherine Corsini casts a delicate glance over women’s liberation and female sexuality in the seventies set French drama, Summertime (La belle saison). With a gorgeous visual palette on hand, Corsini’s tale showcases an ideological battle between small-town France and Parisian metropolitanism.

Closeted Delphine (Izïa Higelin) leaves her family farm in Limousin to start afresh in Paris – here, she meets and falls in love with militant feminist, Carole (Cécile De France). When tragedy strikes Delphine returns home to tend to the farm, yet arouses suspicions within the surrounding town when she brings ‘friend’ Carole back with her.

Corini and co-writer Laurette Polmanss cover a wide scope in their ambitious narrative, but most interesting is their focus on gay life in the seventies. Whilst our protagonists sexualities are never explicitly classified, Corsini’s exploration of a same sex relationship in the urban Parisian metropolis compared to the countryside of Limousin makes for a fascinating subject matter. In terms of characterisation, tomboy Delphine goes from extroverted wild child in Paris to a wallflower upon returning back to the closet of her childhood home. Themes of loyalty to family and trueness to oneself come into question, making the emotional dilemma at the core of Summertime all the more pressing.

Whilst the women’s rights angle feels somewhat familiar in terms of narrative content, Corsini’s film shines when simply capturing the convincing relationship between our two leads and the subsequent strains placed on it when relocated to the countryside. As suspicions arise from the small-minded locals and Carole grows increasingly frustrated at having to suppress their relationship, Summertime occasionally feels tense although this is never fully sustained in favour of emotionally-charged melodrama.

There’s some interesting material regarding small-town attitudes and Corsini captures the difficulty that so many face in the ‘coming out’ process in a more conservative time – a situation that sadly still resonates with a contemporary audience. Much of the credibility of Summertime is indebted to performances of De France and Higelin who capture the ups and downs of a relationship – chronicling the passion and pain with tender elegance. Cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie excels at capturing the titular season – particularly as the film moves from built-up Paris to the gorgeously sparse and sun-drizzled countryside.

Whilst there are occasional glimpses of familiarity, Summertime transcends this in its second act, going on to elegantly tackle love and the struggles that fall alongside it.

Andrew McArthur

Drama, Romance, World Cinema | France, 2015 | 15 | Glasgow Film Festival | Curzon Artificial Eye Film | Dir. Catherine Corsini | Cécile De France, Izïa Higelin, Noémie Lvovsky

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About Andrew McArthur

Obsessed with all things film, television, and pop music. Worshipper of John Waters, Roman Polanski, and classy French actresses.

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