Monday, August 14, 2017

The reason we love French films: Diastème's sparkling THE SUMMER OF ALL MY PARENTS

Looking for some real sophistication? The sort that casts a wide, maybe wild but also smart and true eye on family dynamics, including parenting, discipline, love, trust, caring and, what the hell, good old humanity itself in so many of its surprising guises. Then of course, you would probably want a French film. Your search is over, as the 2016 delight titled (for the American market, at least) THE SUMMER OF ALL MY PARENTS, has just arrived on DVD last week. The French title, Juillet août, which translates simply as July-August, is much simpler and more appropriate, too, as this small-but-sterling movie deals with a pair of siblings who spend one summer month with their mom and step-dad, and the next one with their father.

The film is directed and co-written by a fellow named Alain Dias, who has now evidently re-christened himself as the single-monikered Diastème (shown at right). Under whatever name, the guy would certainly seem to know what's he's doing, for he's given us an unusual look at a typical "fractured family." But this time, what may initially appear to be the usual clichés soon morph into something quite a bit richer, stranger, more truthful and compelling. How Diastème and his co-writer Camille Pouzol achieve this sneaks up on you via characters who grow slowly and rather quietly, in every case, into something more and better than you will have expected.

Summer/Parents is first of all a movie about character. And growth. That younger sibling, Laura, played with just the right combo of insecurity and ferocity by the terrific little actress, Luna Lou, above, right, and below, left) is coming to terms with late maturation, a lot of anger issues, and the possibility of boarding school. Her gorgeous older sister, Josephine, acted by Alma Jodorowsky (above, left, and below, right -- and, yes, she's the granddaughter of a certain Alejandro), is a young woman discovering what is perhaps her first major love.

Unfortunately that love is for a hot-looking young man (Jérémie Laheurte, above, center) who is a member of a small but somewhat smart criminal group. Meanwhile mom (Pascalle Arbillotbelow, right) and stepdad (the fine and funny Patrick Chesnais, below, left) are having their own problems -- physical and monetary -- which eventually spills over to the rest of the family.

By the time August arrives, and the two girls get to Normandy and their very hands-on father (Thierry Godard, below, whom you may recognize from his roles in French TV's police/justice series Spiral and the WWII occupation tale, A French Village), events have taken quite a turn.

How all this resolves is handled with such intelligence and delicacy, avoiding melodrama while offering up a most interesting brand of conflict-resolution that I suspect you will be both charmed and warmed by the insight and kindness on hand.

Along the way, you'll get a very special scene of a girl's first menstrual cycle, a criminal henchman with surprising sense of morality to offset his aroused sexuality, a jewel heist, a teen pool party and lots more -- each of which stands the typical cliché on its head.

If this is not a great film (and I don't think it is), it is still such a very good one that it makes a must-see addition to anyone's list of films about family dynamics. Quiet, smart, funny, believable and full of a sincerity that is never naive, it will, I'm pretty certain, make my extended list of "best movies" come year's end.

Arriving on DVD last week via First Run Features (which most often deals in documentaries but in its choice of narrative films, offers almost consistently some little-known but very worthwhile gems), The Summer of All My Parents, in French with English subtitles and running a just-right 97 minutes, is available now -- for rental, purchase (and probably before too long) streaming.

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