‘Summer of 85’ review: enchanting, nostalgia-packed tragedy full of jumbled emotions

Told via flashbacks, François Ozon’s queer romance is both tender and intense

A sweltering summer romance set in mid-1980s Normandy which balances thematic darkness with exhilarating liberation, Summer of 85 is the latest film from François Ozon (8 femmes, Swimming Pool).

16-year-old Alex (Félix Lefebvre) and 18-year-old David (Benjamin Voisin) meet when Alex’s sailboat capsizes during a storm. David is a floppy-haired, dreamy prince charming who heroically saves the younger man, taking Alex home as if he were a lost puppy. David, who can recite poetry and hypnotise Alex with a kiss, is an enchanting mystery – an enigma that Alex can’t help but gravitate towards.

Partly adapted from Aidan Chambers’ 1982 YA novel Dance on My Grave, Summer of 85 stays true to the book with the early reveal of David’s death. Through flashbacks, the events that lead up to this tragic moment unravel. Alex writes down the details of his relationship as a form of therapy and it is these words that Ozon uses for dramatic voice over, providing powerful insight into the jumbled emotions of the young man.

Summer of 85
Benjamin Voisin and Félix Lefebvre in ‘Summer Of 85’. Credit: Curzon

Alex calls his relationship with David the “friendship of his dreams” but just like a dream, the jolt into reality is sudden and disorientating, especially as we shift into a state of mourning. Alex becomes obsessed with thinking about death and although this story isn’t directly linked to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, death lingers in every frame and the epidemic never feels too far from home.

Yet through the melodrama there is a powerful sense of freedom; David flirts with death, speeding down coastal roads with no need for the brakes. The thrilling nature of infatuation is an adrenaline rush that Alex craves but leaves him woozy. Later, under fluorescent lights, the pair dance to ‘80s pop, basking in the euphoria of being young and careless. David slips headphones over Alex’s ears and the thrumming beat dissolves into the soft melody of Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing.’ Alex’s attention is drawn only to David. His world comes crashing down at the realisation, under a disco ball, that he is in love.

The chemistry between the two actors comes naturally, making up for the occasional flimsy handling of Alex’s tonal shifts. Shot on 16mm film, the grainy nostalgic image is perfect as Alex wonders how his perception of the relationship was in opposition to David’s. Was it always destined to be a summer fling? Are his memories even real?

Summer of 85 is tender in its approach to Alex’s delusional desires, stacked full of intense performances and emotional longing and set against a stunning French seaside backdrop. A reminder of the possibilities of summer, this film is a last chance to bathe in sunshine before winter arrives.

Details

  • Director: François Ozon
  • Starring: Félix Lefebvre, Benjamin Voisin, Philippine Velge
  • Release date: October 23 (Curzon Home Cinema)
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