Movie Review: La belle saison (Summertine) (2015)
La belle saison (Summertime) (2015)
Director: Catherine Corsini
Cast: Cécile De France, Izïa Higelin, Noémie Lvovsky
Synopsis: The lesbian love affair between a farm girl and a Parisian Spanish teacher comes under pressure in 1970s France.
As with all doomed love affairs, the lusty, infectious exuberance with which 23-year-old country girl Delphine (Izia Higelin) and the older, more cosmopolitan Carole (Cécile De France – L’ennemi public No 1) embark on theirs is given a bitter-sweet perspective by its subsequent breakdown in Catherine Corsini’s La belle saison (known in the UK and other English-speaking countries as Summertime, a far more prosaic title which loses the original’s sense of fleeting bliss). Theirs are worlds that should never have collided, but they do, in an early 1970s Paris which seems aflame with passionate feminism. Delphine is bedazzled by Carole’s spirit and sophistication, while Carole, by surrendering to Delphine’s earthy delights, forsakes the life she has known.
Delphine is a farm girl, unashamed of her sexuality, yet too afraid of the reaction from the closed rural community in which she has been raised to declare it. Paris offers a lively and exciting refuge from having to live a lie, and a much greater measure of sexual liberation, although the distance travelled in terms of gay rights since then is illustrated by the rescue mission undertaken by Carole’s feminist movement, which liberates a young man drugged and incarcerated in a mental home because of his homosexuality. But just as she begins to feel the pieces of her life are finally beginning to fit together, Delphine’s father suffers a debilitating stroke, and she must return to her village to manage the family farm. The separation is so unbearable that Carole moves to the country to be with her, but the closeted views of the residents, whose lives have remained largely unchanged for generations, force constraints on the women’s previously carefree relationship.
While La belle saison says nothing new about the ways that an ignorant and prejudiced society effect the lives of gay people, it tells its familiar story with a typical Gallic charm. Delphine is an immensely appealing heroine, possessing a free-spirited sense of fun which a comparatively hard life and a keen sense of responsibility has failed to suppress. Carole is not quite as sympathetic as her young lover, however; the certainty and completeness with which she embraces her new life shows admirable fortitude, but is also the flip-side of a steely will which allows her to matter-of-factly terminate her relationship with her blameless male partner, and hints at the character defects that will force Delphine to make choices for which she is not prepared. Both Higelin and De France give affecting performances, and Corsini’s screenplay (with Laurette Polmanss) succinctly captures the poignancy of a relationship wounded not by a slow depletion of love, but overwhelming external forces.
(Reviewed 12th July 2016)