François Ozon’s Summer of 85 sees the French filmmaker return to his more expected territory of glamorous, sexually-charged psychological drama after his hard-hitting 2018 feature By the Grace of God. The hot-blooded, hormone-fuelled Normandy set coming of age drama tackles the woozy romantic dreamlike world of a first love through a queer lens, before veering into piquant psychological territory.
Opening with a fourth wall breaking intro, Alexis (the handsome Félix Lefebvre who conjures up similarities to a young Alain Delon) warns us that those afraid of stories of murder should turn off, as he sits with a police officer. Picking up from this moment of mystery, but gradually flashing back to explore the events leading up to this, Summer of 85 details Alexis falling for punky, free-spirited David (Benjamin Voisin). Going on to document the blossoming bond between Alexis and David, the narrative sees trouble hit as both young men’s intentions begin to diverge.
With Ozon’s traditional features: picturesque settings, the queer male gaze, psychological gameplay, and vibrant aesthetics, Summer of 85 is an undeniably impressive watch that hits both the right visual and emotive notes consistently. Transporting us to gorgeous sun-baked eighties Normandy with small town architecture (almost conjuring up the romantic European small-town connotations of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name) and music choices of the decade: Laura Branign’s Self Control, The Cure’s In Between Days, and Rod Stewart’s Sailing, Ozon manages to conjure up a romantic nostalgia with which to soak his tale in. Throw in some chic eighties fashions: denim jackets and sports jackets and the aura of woozy, sexy, dreamlike glamour is crafted.
Ozon’s traditional queer gaze feels prevalent, particularly in the context of protagonist Alexis. The young man’s sexuality is never overtly discussed until his meeting with David, where his initial adoration becomes clear. Yet Ozon cleverly constructs David’s sexual identity: is the free-spirited young man simply over-friendly and dangerously flirtatious or does he harbour similar feelings to Alexis? Either way, both young men are shot with a gaudy eroticism – with Ozon capturing their natural charm as performers and good looks, further drawing us into the romantic journey that unfolds.
Félix Lefebvre does an impressive job at capturing the smitten adoration and later bitter possessiveness that Alexis feels for David, whilst Benjamin Voisin’s easy-going, flirtatious manner – is captured well, also showcasing his somewhat selfish, childish demeanour (most explicitly when Philippine Velge’s Kate is introduced as another sexual possibility for David).
Ozon gradually unfolds the relationship between the young men from ambiguous ‘will they, won’t they?’, to heated and passionate love affair, chronicling up until this passion turns toxic. The latter-half of the film takes a very Ozonian/Hitchcockian detour, with heightened emotions and exploration into the hazy, unpleasant intoxications of grief. Themes of death are continually channelled throughout Summer of 85 with the film deviating between the intensity of extreme passion and extreme grief. Whilst Summer of 85 would perhaps have benefited from a little more focus on the romantic aspect of the narrative, Ozon ultimately retains us in his grip throughout.
Watch Summer of 85 on Curzon here.