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#TIFF20 Review: Summer of 85 (Special Presentations)

September 16, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

A swooning, tragic romance that unfolds on the coast of Normandy and is set against the perfect backdrop of the 1980s, director François Ozon’s queer melodrama Summer of 85 is a film that won’t work for everyone, but it really worked for me.

When we first meet teenaged protagonist Alexis (Félix Lefebvre) in the film, he is awaiting trial and reveals in voiceover that he has always been obsessed with death, telling us about a dead body that he knew when it was alive. When we first meet his love interest David (Benjamin Voisin), Alex informs us through narration that he will become the dead body. It’s certainly a more twisted version of the usual “meet cute,” turning this into as much of a potential murder mystery as it is a gay romance between two pretty French boys.

The two first meet when Alex is out sailing, and his boat capsizes, sending David to the rescue. The helpful, handsome stranger brings Alex back to his home, where David’s extroverted mother (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi), who has no sense of boundaries, draws him a bath, happy that her boy has brought another friend home. From here, the two teenagers embark on a playful, sensual relationship. But we know that these are merely flashbacks, which leads to a sense of foreboding.

Based on the 1982 young adult novel Dance On My Grave by British author Aidan Chambers, Summer of 85 explores how jealousy and other forces come to tear the two lovers apart. The film also reveals deeper themes about storytelling, and the narratives that we project onto the people we love, ideas that are emboldened by the film’s own puzzle box structure which keeps us somewhat on edge.

Lefebvre and Voisin, both delivering breakout performances, have great chemistry together and make the scenes between Alexis and David wonderful to watch. The nostalgic, mid-’80s setting adds to the experience, immersing us in the clothes and music of the decade. The film features some great needle drops, including a magical moment involving headphones on the dance floor and the Rod Stewart song “Sailing.” It also looks gorgeous, having been shot on Super 16 film to give it a classic, cinematic look.

The mixed reviews that Summer of 85 has been getting are somewhat understandable, but I quite liked it. It’s melodramatic, yes, and over the top at times, leaning in to some of the elements of camp that are accepted in queer cinema. But just go with it, like I did, and let it sweep you away.

Benjamin Voisin and Félix Lefebvre in Summer of 85

Public Screenings:

Sunday, September 13th – 9:00 PM at RBC Lakeside Drive-In at Ontario Place

Tuesday, September 15th – 6:00 PM at Bell Digital Cinema (Online for 24 Hours)

Thursday, September 17th – 9:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

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