In the midst of all of the summer’s big tentpole films — filled with aliens, explosions and superheroes — I forget the breadth of what cinema can cover. I forget that movies can be quiet and focus on human emotions like love and desire and can tackle complicated social issues. Catherine Corsini’s Summertime is exactly one of those films, one that overflows with intelligence and an innate, natural humanity.
Set in France in 1971, the film follows Delphine (Izia Higelin), a young woman who grew up helping tend to her family’s farm in the French countryside and has, for a long time, come to understand her own sexuality and her attraction to women. While feeling comfortable about this within herself, the conservative bent of her community and her family forces her to Paris. There she falls in with group of radical feminists who spend their time passionately debating politics and staging protests. This is also, most importantly, where she meets Carole (Cecile De France), whom she immediately falls for.
Carole, however, lives with her boyfriend, Manuel (Benjamin Bellecour), and has never been attracted to women. This doesn’t stop a sexual relationship from eventually budding, something that’s interrupted when Delphine’s father (Jean-Henri Compere) has a stroke, and she must return home to tend to the farm. Carole soon follows her there, learning the difficulties of their relationship when put up against the mores of Delphine’s family and the small town where they live, as well as French society at a time when homosexuality could get you committed.
While Summertime could be little more than a story of forbidden love, director Corsini builds the film into something greater, constantly playing around with expectations. In its own small way, the fact that Delphine, with her rural upbringing, is more in touch with herself than the city-bred Carole feels surprising. At the same time, the film never becomes a story of a jealous boyfriend nor a love triangle, since Manuel’s existence (while handled deftly and honestly) isn’t focused on for long and because (it’s amazing how surprising and rare this feels in this day and age) Summertime is a movie about women.
The film’s main concern is the emotional drama between these two women, and Corsini’s style matches this aesthetic. The shots are quiet, with the emphasis on Corsini and co-writer Laurette Polmanss’ intelligent dialogue and the acting of Higelin and De France. They’re capable of expressing the nuance and emotion necessary for a film like this, with the appropriate dignity and maturity, all of which makes Summertime a welcome surprise. Not Rated.
Opens Friday, Aug. 12, at Grail Moviehouse.