Directed by Catherine Corsini
Starring Cecile de France, Izia Higelin, Noemie Lvovsky
Released on 15th July 2016
Sometimes film titles don’t translate terribly well. Catherine Corsini’s La Belle Saison is Summertime in English, technically correct but somehow adrift of the spirit of the film. The inference of beauty in the original French has gone and, perhaps most importantly, the sense of something happening when its meant to and running its course.
In this case, it’s the relationship between Delphine (Izia Higelin) and Carole (Cecile de France). Delphine moves to Paris from the country, where she’s been working on the family farm but has an uncertain future. In the big city, she falls in with a group of radical feminists and finds herself attracted to the older Carole, a teacher and one of the group’s leaders. Initially, she rejects the younger woman’s advances but, when the inevitable happens, Carole leaves her husband. But Delphine’s former life pulls her back when her father is taken ill and she has to take over the farm. Carole follows her there, but they’re in a different world now …..
The setting is the early 70s, a world of different attitudes, yet there’s still a very familiar ring to it and it comes in the feminists’ discussions. Equal pay for equal work, a woman’s right to control her own body: issues that were part and parcel of the suffragette struggle at the start of the last century and which are still being debated today. Yet, despite declaring itself as being all about freedom, the group is about equality and the subject of sexuality isn’t raised very often. Witness how they free the cousin of one of their members. He’s been put in an asylum and is drugged up to the eyeballs. Why? Because he’s gay.
And the subject isn’t discussed a great deal outside the group either. This is, after all, the early 70s – Delphine’s ‘wet look’ coat and Carole’s tapestry bag capture perfectly the fashions of the day – and the word “gay” was only starting to acquire its contemporary meaning. Homosexuality, male or female, was still regarded with suspicion and disapproval and, outside the city with even more antipathy. Disgusting and perverted are the words.
Delphine’s self-effacing but resilient mother, Monique, represents more conservative attitudes – old fashioned compared to those of her daughter and her lover. And Noemie Lvovsky is superb in the role, traditional in outlook, surprised that anybody would admire her for running the farm single handed and full of ill-disguised anger when she discovers the truth about Carole’s relationship with her daughter. Yet she still defends Delphine, maintaining that she’s been corrupted by the older woman. Having lost her husband, through no fault of her own, she’s not going to lose her daughter if she can help it.
The relationship between the two lovers is the main focus of the film, but if you want some real passion it’s in the scenes involving the feminist group, disrupting meetings, demonstrating, singing together. There’s something cooler about the love story which makes it feel more distant than it should. Real ntensity comes from the characters around them. There’s Monique, of course, and there’s Manuel (Benjamin Bellecour), Carole’s husband, who tries to understand his wife’s infidelity, but ultimately can no longer share a bed with her. And there’s Antoine (Kevin Azais), Delphine’s childhood friend and seen by her parents as her likely husband: he sees the two women together, is heartbroken but still keeps their secret.
The core of the film should be heated to the point of fiery, yet somehow it never quite reaches those heights. Maybe that’s because you know that the differences between Delphine and Carole and where they come from are too wide and too deep to be reconciled. They’ll leave scars on each other, they’ll affect each other’s lives deeply but they’ll never be together, no matter how hard they try. It’s not tragic, it’s just inevitable that their love will run its course.
Summertime is released in cinemas on Friday,15 July and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 14 July.