At first glance, a hormonal gay teenager’s coming-of-age experience might sound too garden-variety for Ozon’s noted sophistication and perverseness, but SUMMER OF 85, based on Aidan Chambers’ YA novel DANCE ON MY GRAVE, suggested by that name, apparently wears its morbidity-fixation on its sleeve.
Normandy, 1985, sixteen-year-old Alex (Lefebvre) meets his lifesaver David (Voisin) on the sea, who is two years older than him and hailed from a middle-class milieu, David and his widowed mother Madame Gorman (Bruni Tedeschi) own a shop selling sea-related merchandise, at which Alex soon will work, from part-time to full-time, concurrently he and David’s relationship turns carnal and passionate.
Yet, this queer first-love sensation is a far cry from Luca Guadagnino’s CALL ME BY YOUR NAMES (2017), Ozon lets on the tragedy right in the start, the story alternates between before/after the fateful incident, and it is Alex who is put under through wringer for his guilt-driven regret and obsessed with the Grim Reaper, all the more he has to keep a promise made to David at the height of their relationship (Rod Steward’s hit SAILING is the pivotal ear-worm), that prompts him to be a law-offender and is evaluated by the psychoanalyst Mr. Lefèvre (a bald and curly Poupaud). A cross-dressing incident betrays Ozon’s penchant but the derivative script itself barely shines through the bifurcation of a heady teenage love affair and the grimmer post-mortem, their is no unknown quantity to leaven the paint-by-numbers narrative development, like our fixed impression of that bygone era, Ozon ornately refuses to inject any soupçon of indication, that augurs wind of change, into the period characterization, everyone is a cypher, a sensitive kid from the wrong side of the tracks, a dreamboat who panders to all teenage gay boys and straight girls’ wildest fantasy, with that awkward third wheel from the other sex, all too blasé to function as an intrigue to bums on seats.
The acting is uniformly palatable, Voison is particularly gorgeous as a paradigmatic sex symbol with his Adonis figure and fresh-faced exuberance, which nearly humbles Lefebvre into a dim sidekick, whose glumness doesn’t resonate, whereas Velge is distinctive in her heavily English-accented French, and Bruni Tedeschi proficiently transforms from a chipper, broad-minded mother to a doleful, bereft gorgon, but why tragedy must befall her, alas, the world is never a kind place for a single mother who has a liberal, unconventional heart.
Be that as it may, even as a minor Ozon’s work, SUMMER OF 85 is well-conceived and constructed in a holistic level, not least for recreating the 80slaidback ambience that matches the film’s alluring scenery, and the savvy message of moving-on, but, Yours Truly cannot dispel a whiff of disappointment, entering the third decade of feature filmmaking, when will Ozon’s career reach a prefigured apotheosis is still anybody’s guess. Patience must be reserved to both his devotees and the quondam wunderkind himself.
referential entries: Ozon’s THE NEW GIRLFRIEND (2014, 6.9/10); Christophe Honoré’s SORRY, ANGEL (2018, 8.1/10); Jakob M. Erwa’s CENTER OF MY WORLD (2016, 6.6/10); Stephen Dunn’s CLOSET MONSTER (2015, 6.2/10).