Summertime | La Belle Saison (2015)
Director: Catherine Corsini
Cast: Cecile de France, Izia Higelin, Noemie Lvovsky, Benjamin Bellecour
104min | Drama | France
Catherine Corsini brings a sizzling energy to her romantically convincing but tonally uneven lesbian love story set in Paris and the glorious landscapes of Le Limousin. Despite its overtly lesbian theme SUMMERTIME will appeal to the arthouse crowd and LGBT enthusiasts alike with its fresh and fiesty turns from Cécile de France and Izia Higelin as unlikely lovers who come together during the French feminist uprisings in 1971.
Izia Higelin plays Delphine, a simple country girl, who arrives in Paris from her parents’ farm to seek her fortune in the capital. Feeling gauche and somewhat naive she immediately becomes caught up in the vortex of female political activism attracted by the strong and earthy women who appeal to her nascent lesbian leanings. Working at grocery store Félix Potin, she falls in love with 35-year-old Carole (Cécile de France) who is in a relationship with writer Manuel (Benjamin Bellecour). After a rather overlong and awkward first act, which attempts to recreate the feminist fervour of the time but ends up feeling embarrassing and contrived, the two begin a torrid affair that takes them back to the countryside when Delphine’s father becomes seriously ill. Helping her mother Monique, they get along like a house on fire initially in a powerfully-crafted second act that serves as a genuinely delightful introduction to the day to day life on a small working farm and evoking the strong ties with the land and the traditional duties of each family member. Here we meet Antoine, a family friend and Delphine’s intended – according to her mother – and he immediately tunes into the sexual vibes of the couple, spying on them kissing, and remains hostile towards Carole. Clearly Delphine’s heart is in the terroir but gradually her love for Carole grows. Cécile de France gives a gutsy go at being Carole, torn between her life in Paris and boyfriend Manuel and her budding feelings for her lesbian lover.
Corsini conveys the strong physical urges of her lovers with scenes of earthy nudity and sex. And although the two give strong performances, it’s clear that Carole is experimenting whereas Delphine is totally committed. Higelin brings a natural vulnerability to her part, not dissimilar from that of Adèle Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Colour. The younger of the two, she exudes a natural affection for Carole as well as a healthy lust, but Carole is a more complex character whose ego demands to be worshipped.
Corsini is no stranger to big-screen lesbian love affairs, best known in this context for her 2001 Cannes competition hopeful Replay, featurin a gutsy yet tragic relationship between Emmanuelle Beart, a successful actress, and her less accomplished partner. Here the focus is more on innocent youth versus worldly experience. Although, in a welcome twist, Delphine pursues Carole initially in a cat and mouse chase that adds extra spice to the narrative. But then reverts to her more traditional female role as she she abandons the capital to help run the farm with her mother (Noemie Lvovsky) and and is thrown back into the orbit of her potential husband Antoine (Kevin Azais), who has been carrying a candle for her since they were kids.
Although the film struggles for a political agenda, this often feels forced and less convincing than the scenes in the traditional farmstead. And Corsini often struggles to connect the feminist political struggles with those more personal issues of the characters in the film’s second half, which ends up feeling considerably more authentic.
Lvovsky’s is a natural as Delphine’s mother whose straightforwardness and feisty protection of her daughter and farm provides great contrast to the more liberated Parisian style of Carole. Azais’ character, which masks an emotionally buttoned-up man who is too hesitant to pursue his personal agenda, a quality her shares with his object of affection Delphine.
Jeanne Lapoirie’s widescreen cinematography is resplendent but doesn’t idolise the Rubenesque voluptuousness of the naked women making love in the meadows, and Gregoire Hetzel’s occasional score and adds an approrpriate ’70s twang to the soundtrack. MT
OUT ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 15 JULY 2016