Having mined the emotional unrest brought about from a range of typically adult circumstances in her previous films, be they betrayals of the heart or one’s moral fortitude, French writer-director Catherine Corsini makes a decidedly monotone return with sun-soaked romantic drama Summertime. Something of a febrile blend of Abtellatif Kechiche’s Cannes agitator Blue is the Warmest Colour and hipster favourite The Dreamers, Corsini’s latest surges with something resembling a heated fascination with sexuality, yet whatever potential this has to augment a fairly standard first-love narrative is routinely squandered in favour of clichéd dialogue and muffled dramatic weight.
The film opens with the luminous Izïa Higelin’s early-twenties Delphine toiling spiritlessly but diligently at her parents’ country farm. An only child who steals away clandestine lesbian romances at night, Delphine dreams of breaking free from the shackles of her frustratingly expectant parents (“You can’t be alone forever,” her father hectors early on, “loneliness is a terrible thing”), something she quickly decides to take action in the wake of learning of a part-time lover’s agreement to wed a male suitor.
Cut to 1971 Paris; revolution is in the air and Delphine is embarking on the independence she has so longingly craved. Her life takes an immediate turn when she literally runs into a crowd of women (dubbed ‘The Wild Ones’) who instill – or perhaps rouse – in Delphine a devout foregrounding of basic female rights. In amongst the group is Carol (played by Cécile de France), an activist deeply embedded in the machinations of the feminist movement.
An undeniable attraction between her and Delphine quickly escalates into a passionate, all-consuming affair, which is soon challenged both by Delphine’s resistance to telling her parents who she really is and her having to return to their farm in the aftermath of her father’s stroke. With their relationship at a desolate halt, Delphine and Carol begin to realise the full extent of what’s at stake when their love is tested by those closest to them.
Though it deals with universally-felt societal pressures and national civil unrest (“Down with the bourgeois society!”, Carol et al are numerously heard shouting), Summertime can’t help but feel wholly insignificant and forgettable, failing to properly mimic the sense of joie de vivre felt by its star-crossed central characters. Like her approach to establishing time and place (most jarringly seen with a soundtrack peopled by the likes of go-to ’70s counter-culture icon Janis Joplin), Corsini – along with co-screenwriter Laurette Polmanss, making her feature debut – pepper their screenplay with lazy platitudes and character interactions, rendering several impassioned crescendos somewhat flat.
Though it deserves kudos for spotlighting the difficulties for young people attempting to come out to forceful parents, as well as its unflinching and sensual depiction of sex between two women, Summertime rarely justifies itself as a worthwhile depiction of the type of anti-conformism so sorely lacking from mainstream cinema.
Words by Edward Frost