Summertime: Lesbian love in 1971

A- Romantic drama
Written by Catherine Corsini and Laurette Polmanss
Directed by Catherine Corsini

Note: I wrote this review almost a year ago, shortly before the film’s screening at the 2016 Frameline festival. I assumed that it would receive an American theatrical release. It didn’t. I just discovered that the movie is available on several pay-per-view streaming services. Since you can now see it, I’m posting this review.

Young, new love bursts with joy and energy. But keeping that love in the closet sickens and distorts, especially in a traditional society where everything but heterosexual marriage is viewed as simply wrong.

Society is changing in 1971, with free love, political activism, feminism, and the beginnings of gay pride. But it’s not changing fast enough for Delphine (Izïa Higelin), still living and working on her parent’s farm. She knows she’s gay, and has had a couple of lovers. But her conservative parents want her to marry a local young man and continue the traditional village life. They haven’t a clue.

Moving to Paris brings a breath of fresh air. She becomes a feminist activist, and befriends the far more urbane Carole (Cécile De France). Soon the friendship deepens into lust and romantic love. When Delphine’s father falls sick, she has to return to the farm, and invites Carole to come live with her.

The bad news is that they’ll be living in the closet. Inevitably, feelings and relationships fray.

Like any love story, Summertime depends heavily on the chemistry of the two leads. Higelin gets the sense of a young woman trapped between tradition and desires, and supremely comfortable with her farming skills. De France makes Carole a force of cultural revolution, but also a vulnerable human being. Their happy scenes together spark with the excitement of discovering love for the first time. (The film contains a considerable amount of sex and nudity.) The rest of the cast is excellent, as well.

The filmmakers smartly avoid the obvious. For instance, it’s the farm girl, Delphine, who first knew she was a lesbian. Carole, the urban activist from the city, is living with a man when we first meet her; she’s the one who has to discover a new side of herself. Nor does director Catherine Corsini and her co-writer, Laurette Polmanss, make her boyfriend some sort of villain. He’s a nice guy, and we feel his pain when Carole leaves him.

The city scenes create the sense of the youthful rebellion that we associate with that era. The young characters demonstrate, damage property, and try to change society–all with energy, enthusiasm, and rock and roll. (And cigarettes; this is a French film.)

By comparison, the farm sequences (which are most of the movie) capture a society that seemingly hasn’t changed in decades and probably won’t soon. The farm looks idyllic, and the title Summertime suggests that we’re seeing it at its best.

While keeping its story intimate and character-based, Summertime reminds us that, even in a time of change, much stays the same. And that the personal–and the sexual–is always political.

You can stream the movie on these services:

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