Monday, July 18, 2016

Heartbreaking/groundbreaking nostalgia in Catherine Corsini's best so far: SUMMERTIME

Taking place in France in the 1970s, among a group of early feminists pushing the boundaries of the French in ways -- women's rights, gay rights, abortion -- for which the French were unprepared, Catherine Corsini's newest film is up there with her best, which would include for my taste The New Eve (1999), La répétition (2001), Leaving (2009) and Three Worlds (2012). In fact, I think SUMMERTIME (La belle saison) is her best yet. It takes us back to a period that the older of us will remember well (even if we weren't in France at the time, what occurred there was simultaneously going on throughout much of the western world), and Ms Corsini captures both events and characters with a hand as deft as it is subtle & cinematic.

The filmmaker, shown at left, casts her films especially well, too -- sometime surprising us with her choice of stars. Emmanuelle Béart made a fine impression in La Repetition, and more than any other of Karin Viard's films, The New Eve helped place this supporting actress on the map to stardom. Kristin Scott Thomas is always fine, but Leaving gave her one of her strongest roles, while Three Worlds offered Clotilde Hesme and Raphaël Personnaz characters that brought out new richness and depth in both performers.

Corsini tends to tackle themes involving both class issues and "the other," with the latter sometimes hinging on one's sexual orientation. So it is again with Summertime, in which a beautiful young farm girl, Delphine (a glowing performance from Izïa Higelin, below), after enduring her parents' constant pushing her into marriage with some local boy and when a secret lesbian affair goes south, takes off for the big city in an attempt to discover another life. Which she manages -- in spades.

In Paris, Delphine falls into an activist women's group, where she meets Carole (another knockout performance from César-winning actress Cécile De France, shown below),  and a relationship blooms.

How this happens is presented believably on both an emotional and societal level, with genuine feeling and attention given to Carole's male partner (beautifully nuanced by Benjamin Bellecour) whom she must give up for Delphine. The same feeling and caring is provided the young man in Delphine's farm community who has been in love with her since childhood (a wonderful, heartbreaking performance from Kévin Azaïs. below, right).

The only other major character is played by that fine French actress, Noémie Lvovsky, below, who brings enormous strength and anger to her role of Delphine's mother, who cannot begin to accept anything but the standard straight-and-narrow sexual relationship for her daughter. Ms Lvovsky has one of the film's strongest and most difficult scenes, and she wipes the floor with it.

But Corsini's movie rightly belongs to her two lead actresses, who play with and off each other quite beautifully throughout. Ms De France's versatility is by now well known. Here we view more of her physically than we ever have, and she proves something to see. As does Ms Higelin (this film should ramp her career into high gear), who has such a buoyant and contagious liveliness than viewers of any gender or preference should easily fall for her -- either/both sexually and/or aesthetically. She is something special.

Corsini's strength here is in bringing us equally close emotionally to the highs and lows of the relationship, as well as making us understand and feel the social/societal difficulties implicit in such a bonding back in the distant 1970s. Both these strands come together to deliver a richly textured, marvelously empathetic movie. Don't miss it.

Summertime -- from Strand Releasing (this independent/foreign film distributor is on one hell of a roll lately!) and running 105 minutes -- opens this Friday, July 22, in New York City (at the IFC Center and Film Society of Lincoln Center) amd in Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal, Playhouse 7 and Claremont 5), and then in another half dozen or more cities in the weeks to come. Click here, then click on Screenings on the tool bar halfway down the screen to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

No comments: