Summary of 85: Mackey Returns Review!
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When it comes to “Summer of 85,” the tides swing rapidly and with frequently stunning power in this confused but ultimately touching tale of love and death from French writer-director François Ozon. There is a lot of frantic conversation about lunacy and bodies in the beginning, and then it turns to the end of the film, which takes place on a sunny length of Normandy shoreline, where Alexis (Félix Lefebvre), the film's 16-year-old protagonist and narrator, rides his bicycle onto the scene.
While it appears to be a beautiful day, things quickly turn sour when Alexis, sometimes known as Alex, sets off on a sailboat that capsizes in an unexpected storm. Fortunately, an 18-year-old sailor named David (Benjamin Voisin) comes to his aid. David has an easygoing demeanour, a killer smile, and a sense of timing so impeccable that you could think he brought the storm with him.
He has, in a sense, achieved what he sought: While the harsh weather will soon pass, Alex's internal storm has only just begun to rage.
David's seduction is quick and unrelenting in its brutality. As the film progresses, we are transported from a movie theatre balcony to a roller coaster to a packed dance floor, where Alex and David dance to the cheesy pop bliss-out of Rod Stewart's “Sailing,” which is played over and over again throughout the credits.
David's mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), who is piercingly wonderful in this role, embraces Alex almost as intently as her son does. Their most intimate moments take place in David's home with his guileless mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). In terms of pure exhilaration, though, nothing compares to the boys' high-speed motorbike rides, during which Alex holds on for dear life while David weaves in and out of lanes with death-defying abandon.
Summer of 85 is marked by the spectre of mortality on a large scale. According to some, David's daring attitude and resolve to live each minute as if it were his last are a rebellious response to his father's unexpected death, which occurred only a few months ago.
The obsession Alex has with death seeps into the stories he writes for his literature class, which serves as a creative outlet for him while also complicating his understanding of what he wants to accomplish with his life. Meanwhile, Alex's working-class parents (Isabelle Nanty and Laurent Fernandez) are quietly concerned about his future. The only thing Alex knows for certain is that he is passionately and obsessively in love with David, who initially reciprocates until, in a life-altering confrontation, he decides that he does not love him.
The two leads are so perfectly cast — Voisin plays a supremely fickle object of desire, while the fresh-faced Lefebvre is the epitome of unfulfilled longing — that you can almost see the story's conclusion written on their faces. Aidan Chambers' 1982 young-adult novel “Dance on My Grave,” a delightfully organised tale that restlessly revolves around its life-altering tragedy, was the inspiration for this story, which was adapted from the novel.
Not unfamiliar with puzzle-box tales, Ozon interprets the novel's layered views and shifting time frames in a generally plain manner (with precise contributions from Hichame Alaouie's cinematography and Laure Gardette's editing, to name a couple of examples). A constant back and forth between Alex's romantic peaks in the past and his unremittingly depressing present — the latter of which he is conspicuously absent — is the hallmark of the film.
Some meta-fictional flourishes are thrown in for good measure: are we witnessing reality, or are we buried in a tale of Alex's own faulty construction? However, the majority of the time, the filmmaker's tone comes across as disarmingly, if not awkwardly, earnest. In addition, despite the story's harsher turns, there is a strangely cheerful element to it. At the time of his first reading, Ozon was a teenager himself, and “Dance on My Grave” had garnered both critical praise and controversy for being one of the few books of the 1980s that did not penalise its young characters for being homosexual.
The author seeks to bridge a gap that has existed for several decades by revisiting his perceptions of the material from an older, allegedly wiser perspective in “Summer of 85.” Additionally, he conjures up a sense of '80s nostalgia, which is always a solid source of cinematic enjoyment due to the clothing, hairstyles, and music of the era, without sacrificing the present tense of the film.
Given how much “Dance on My Grave” appears to anticipate key themes and story elements from the director's past films, as Ozon has highlighted in interviews, this specific voyage has taken its own peculiar metafictional turns, as well. Ozon's latest film, “Summer of 85,” has the matter-of-fact sensuality and youthful intensity of many of the director's earlier works, but it's also a stunningly particular best-of collection of scenes from across the director's ceaselessly active career.
In the same way that Alex's connection with his writing tutor (a deliciously skeevy Melvil Poupaud) evokes the literary contortions of Ozon's “In the House,” you might recall Ozon's “The New Girlfriend” when Alex is forced to dress in women's clothing out of desperation. Ozon, no less than Alex himself, has long had a death fixation, a fascination with dramas of personal pain and loss (“Under the Sand,” “Time to Leave,” “Frantz”) that finally reaches a kind of sick apotheosis in “Frantz.”
When Ozon's characters are unrelenting in their quest of darkness, the story can sometimes veer into regions of emotional extremes that are at once exhilarating and depressing, a mixture of too much and not enough. In particular, when “Summer of 85” reaches the climactic reckoning, which is dependent on a weird lovers' covenant and which gives the film its title, it is exceptionally effective.
In amongst the film's arresting, borderline-surreal flourishes, the most moving scenes are those in which Alex, who has become lost in the maelstrom of his grief, is gently pulled back to reality, first by a sympathetic friend, Kate (Philippine Velge), who finds herself swept up in his sorrows, and then by his parents, who turn out to be more knowing and understanding than he had realised. Despite the fact that it sounds like a work of fiction, it feels astonishingly close to the truth.