‘Summer of 85’: François Ozon Returns with a Scintillating Romantic Throwback

After a trio of films that saw François Ozon feeling out the far extremes of his interest and ability — 2016’s monochrome interwar melodrama “Frantz”, the winking De Palma-esque mindfuck “Double Lover” and last year’s journalistic Catholic priest exposé “By the Grace of God” — the precocious and pétillant “Summer of 85” finds the prolific French auteur circling back to the kind of lurid, playful, and unapologetically queer psychodramas that first made him famous in the late ’90s. But it wouldn’t be right to characterize this stormy coming-of-age story as a return to form, as that would imply some kind of desperate scramble back to the safety of the shore.

Sunny, seductive, and strangely refreshing even when things get dark, “Summer of 85” is the cinematic equivalent of someone going back to their childhood home and seeing it through the bleary eyes of an adult, clouded by memory but also liberated from the teenage myopia that once made every new emotion feel like a matter of life and death.

The scrambled, horny, and surprisingly tender story of a 16-year-old boy who listens to The Cure so much that he’s grown desperate for someone to make him lovesick (a closeted longing not yet complicated by the AIDS epidemic that only factors into this movie as an aftertaste), “Summer of 85” is nothing if not a matter of life and death.

Robert Smith’s voice bookends the film — a faithful but thoroughly Ozon-ized adaptation of Aidan Chambers’ 1982 novel “Dance on My Grave” — but Alexis (Félix Lefebvre) seems more like a Morrissey stan from the moment we meet him trudging through a juvenile detention center in chains as he rants via voiceover about his morbid obsession. “Mad I may be” this scuffed cherub shouts at us so passionately that we can hear his internal monologue, “but crazy I am not. Corpses scare me, but what I’m really interested in is death.” He offers to tell us about the one body that scarred his psyche forever, and who are we to say no?

If “Summer of 85” is spread too thin to contain the quicksilver romance at its center, Ozon knows full well that the spillover is what’s going to fuel Alex’s self-invention. No matter how far you go, there are certain things you always take with you — at this point in Ozon’s elastic career, “Summer of 85” is rewarding proof of that.

Originally due to premiere at Cannes before the festival was canceled because of COVID-19, “Summer of 85” had its North American premiere at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. Music Box Films will release it in the United States.

Via IndieWire

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