“Summertime” is a riveting love story set in 1970’s France

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Oh the French, what with their flair for the dramatic and lengthy lesbian sex scenes. Let me tell you, if Blue Is The Warmest Color set the standard, Catherine Corsini’s Summertime (La Belle Saison) surpasses it in that it’s a much better film. Here’s a tagline for you: French feminists fucking in fields … in the ‘70s. Well, perhaps “making love” would be more appropriate.

The keywords here are “love” and “the ‘70s”, which should tell you a lot about what to expect. But on with the story!

At the movie’s center is Delphine (Izïa Higelin), the daughter of farmers. Life on the farm means she’s expected to get married any day now, much to her irritation. Her stance on marriage quickly makes sense when we see her take off into the night for a rendezvous with a ladylove. Sadly a few short kisses in Delphine is suddenly single–her paramour is getting married since things weren’t that “serious” anyway.

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Perhaps Delphine realized in that moment that no love affair would ever be “serious” for a lesbian in the French countryside in the early ‘70s. In any case, the summer of 1971 finds her moving to Paris. It’s there that in an instance of right place, right time she meets the audacious Carole (Cécile De France). Carole had been slapping some men’s butts, and it was Delphine that got her out of a tricky situation.

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There’s a point to the tushie tapping–Carole is involved in the feminist movement and this act was just one of many her group had planned. And what a kickass bunch they are, as Delphine discovers when she checks out their meetings. They’ve got songs and rants, as well as solid convictions and other lesbians in the fold. Delphine feels compelled to join, but mostly because it means she gets to interact with Carole some more.

It would appear, however, that Delphine is setting herself up for yet another heartbreak. Carole, it turns out, has a live-in boyfriend named Manuel. Hold your horses though, this isn’t another drawn out love triangle. It’s clear that once Carole and Delphine share their first kiss, Carole’s world will never be the same.

About that first kiss—it comes after a small segment of the group breaks out a gay friend from an insane asylum. That was awesome, but Carole rejecting Delphine after she kisses her while sharing a bed that night? Not so awesome.

But following that moment Carole just can’t keep away. She goes after Delphine, who literally pushes her up against a wall. They really kiss then, followed by Delphine taking an apprehensive Carole to bed. Guilt will do that.

Yet she keeps coming back. It’s not even a matter of who she loves more. She’s completely enamored with Delphine, and a reluctant Manuel just has to bow out.

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The sex scenes, by the way, are not a one-off. There are several. Most have a very carefree nature to them, and it’s freakin’ great. When was the last time you saw two lovers playfully roar and growl at each other? Also, and I’m not sure if this movie kept feminist, lesbian or French stereotypes in mind (maybe all of the above?), but the answer is “yes” to underarm hair and full bush. Good call Corsini.

Of course just as things are falling into place, something goes wrong. Back at the farm Delphine’s dad falls ill, and she has to return to help her mom. Carole is devastated, and it’s in that moment you realize how deep in this she is.

But seeing as how she’s not one to sit around and let life pass her by, Carole reacts. She packs her bags and moves in with Delphine and her parents (hence the field fucking). She’s determined to earn her keep though, as evidenced by the splinters in this city girl’s fingers. She even manages to endear herself to Delphine’s mother Monique, although she isn’t aware of the filthy things Carole gets up to with her daughter.

An independent Parisian living on a farm though? Carole was bound to get restless. But what really ticks her off is Monique’s hopes that Delphine will marry her childhood friend Antoine. Hopes that Delphine doesn’t necessarily dash, much to Carole’s annoyance and hurt.

Things only get worse when Monique overhears the two women fighting and then finds them naked in bed together one morning. While she acts composed with her daughter, she completely freaks out on Carole. It’s a very powerful scene, with Carole reminding Monique that she is still the same person she treated warmly only days ago. Her appeals don’t do the trick – Monique wants her gone.

That leaves Delphine with a very difficult choice. Does she leave with Carole and, in doing so, likely become the reason her parents lose their farm? Or does she stay, losing the person who is likely the love of her life and conforming herself to the idea that she can’t live out her true desires?

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No true happy ending is possible in circumstances like those. But it does all make for one hell of an emotional ride.

Summertime is a beautiful film, with great performances from its two leading ladies, whose chemistry is undeniable. The movie is an ode to the French countryside and 1970’s French feminist politics, and it works. If you can only make time to watch a few selections this year, know that Summertime is set to become a top 5 lesbian cinema pick in 2015.

 

Summertime will be playing at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 13, 15 and 19. Check in with your local film festival to see if it will be playing near you.

 

 

 

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