Partners Catherine Corsini and Elisabeth Perez discuss their must-see lesbian movie “Summertime”

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Less than two weeks ago I told you about a new lesbian movie that’s stealing our hearts here at AfterEllen–the French film Summertime (La Belle Saison). The movie is about feminists Delphine and Carole, who meet and fall in love in early 1970’s Paris, despite being from two different worlds. The film had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on September 13, with director Catherine Corsini and producer Elisabeth Perez in town to promote it.

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I sat down with the two women, who also happen to be partners in life and love. We (and by we, I mean me, them, and a translator, because I don’t parle français très bien),  talked feminism, the reception to the film in France, and, of course, those memorable sex scenes.

Warning: some spoilers ahead

AfterEllen.com: 1970s France. The feminist movement. Lesbians. It might go without saying, but why did you want to make a movie that covered these themes?

Catherine Corsini: In France two years ago, there was a huge homophobia trend, especially triggered by the gay weddings. So the very hostile France woke up, and that’s the main reason why I wanted to touch on this subject. I wanted to retrace the history and do the parallel of the feminist movement as well as the homosexual movement to show where that was coming from.

There’s another reason as well: Elisabeth really pushed me to do a movie relating to the theme of homosexuality, which I had not dealt with until now.

 

AE: Why not? Why wait until now?

Elisabeth Perez: Because she’s a little bit like Delphine in the movie.

CC: I was kind of afraid not to find the balance point to relate to a homosexual story. I was afraid I would not be able to film love scenes between women. Maybe I did not have enough distance–enough step back to be able to film that. And it was pretty much a virgin land for me because there’s less pictured. And I was afraid on the other hand to show off  a homosexual relationship too much, physically. So I was struggling with finding the balance point between them.

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AE: Was that because of how you thought the audience would react? Or what it would say about you?

CC: It’s because of me; because of the demure nature I would have in myself for the intimate side. And I did not want to give this picture to the lions either. Then we would take the risk that some guys would just come to–in France we say to “rinse their eyes.” Just looking at beautiful women making love. Like most of the time when you film love scenes among women, they are very pretty, soft music, beautiful pictures. And I did not want this to be like that. I did not want it to be pornographic either, because of the audience. So I was kind of afraid.

 

 

AE: I have to comment on the sex scenes. You certainly didn’t pull any punches. Why did you feel it was important to show these women being intimate, time and time again?

CC: Because for me, making love is important. What I wanted to show in the love making scenes between two women, I really wanted to convey the pleasure that that can bring. Especially of the freedom that it entails, and the audacity. It also brings some beauty to it, and some happiness. And to show also that if it’s a little more complicated, maybe the desire can make gorgeous a love scene.

EP: I find that very often when love scenes between women are shown, the penetration is not shown. That’s what I was saying each time I was looking at the directions. I was saying, “But we don’t see the penetration happening.” So we were filming it over and over again, maybe more than planned. So we looked a lot into how to suggest it.

CC: For the actresses it was a little difficult for them to do these love scenes.

 

AE: The movie makes feminism look fun, which it can be, of course. But I can see how some would say that it romanticizes feminism. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?

CC: The image of feminism in France is pretty awful. I don’t know if it’s the same image you guys have in Canada or in the United States, but in France it’s really terrible. Like feminist women are considered to be ugly, to be badly laid, to want to take the place of guys and stuff. So I wanted to show that, on the contrary, they can be fun, they can be spontaneous, they can be totally full of life, and that they basically were inventing a new thought, a new way of thinking, a new trend. So maybe I kind of flew over it a little bit because it’s pretty difficult to relate all these thoughts through actions. But I was always thinking to look at the actions that are basically the origin of the actions that are taken today by the feminist movement, in a less violent form.

EP: The actions led by feminism nowadays are even more violent.

 

AE: Delphine and Carole–what is it about these two women that makes them so attracted to each other?

EP: For Delphine I think it comes from the freedom Carole has.

CC: I think it’s difficult to describe exactly the attraction. It’s probably the way Carole speaks, and the freedom she has in speaking, which is pretty different from Delphine, who’s more closed and has more of this contained violence that Carole is actually playing out.

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AE: Many of the decisions Delphine and Carole make individually stem from the fact that one is a country girl and the other a city girl. For both of the women, what are the advantages and disadvantages of this reality?

CC: Maybe for Carole, her journey is simpler and clearer, because the decision she faced–she’s totally overwhelmed by what’s happening to her so she decides to leave her boyfriend. And it just fell onto her. She’s discovering a new sexuality. She had no idea. And as she’s extremely curious and extremely engaged, she decides to go to the countryside expecting maybe that her life will be totally changed for that.

EP: We can think that Carole might have stayed in the countryside if she had been warmly welcomed.

CC: As for Delphine, she has really extreme difficulties making her own decisions. She’s basically making her decisions by default. When she goes to Paris it’s just simply because she has been dumped by her girlfriend. She finds she doesn’t have her own space, her own place in the countryside. So she goes up to Paris to hide. And when she returns, she just returns because her father was sick. It’s not really her decision. And basically her only decision to make was to stay with Carole, and it’s something she could not really do.

EP: Because she was so torn by her love for the land.

CC: At the end in the letter, that’s when she explains that she does understand that it takes time to start making your own personal decisions based on your own desire, on your own personal decisions, because until then she finds she’s totally alienated. She’s totally attached to her family and to the land.

 

AE: Your two stars, while they’re lesser known in North America, are well-known names in France. What has the reaction to the film been like there from audiences and critics?

CC: All the critiques were really good actually. Except one written by a gay journalist from Libération.

EP: We were really thinking she should not have done it.

CC: We were, on the other hand, very disappointed by the audience, which confirms that France is really not open to a love story between women.

EP: As for the popular press, everything was pretty much positive, and we had money for the distribution. So really we had the doors open for success, but that’s when we realized there was lots of resistance, especially when you look at the map of the different theaters within France. You can see that there’s a big resistance to that, and some theaters where people just go see action films and comedies.

CC: When there’s a homosexual movie about guys, there’s no problem. But it seems that when there’s a love story about two women it’s almost like it doesn’t exist, or that people don’t want to see it. There’s really this resistance on the side of the audience. I wanted to do a movie for the people, just to be able to reach a very large audience. Especially so the subject and the theme would change people – change people’s mentality. And I wanted to have a really big visibility, and really touch a large audience. But I realized that there’s a huge resistance. Like people just do not want to acknowledge love stories between women. They just don’t want to see them in cinema.

 

Well we do! And for that reason we were thrilled to find out Strand Releasing recently picked up the U.S. rights to the film. For now, those lucky enough can catch a TIFF screening of the film on September 15 and 19.

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