Film Review: ‘Summertime’ gently depicts the bliss and struggle of forbidden love

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Noémie Lvovsky and Cécile De France in SUMMERTIME

Summertime_PosterSize_Outlines.inddAs we know from real life and as emphasized in films, love can sometimes be irrational and inexplicable. Indeed, the most passionate romances are often the most taboo, as evident in the popularity of the classic Romeo and Juliet story template. Such a forbidden romance takes center stage in the tender new film Summertime from Catherine Corsini, where two women from different worlds become unexpected lovers, even as societal expectations threaten to tear them apart.

Summertime takes place in 1970s France, where a young woman named Delphine (Izïa Higelin) lives with her parents on a rural farm. She has grown up sheltered in a conservative household where the men work hard and the women simply seek a husband. Nevertheless, Delphine quietly rejects her traditionalist environment, secretly engaging in lesbian affairs. She eventually decides it’s time for a change however, leading her to move to the city of Paris to enjoy the freedoms she never had.

Before long, she meets the fierce and beautiful Carole (Cécile de France), who plays an active part of a growing feminist movement and is also settled into a relationship with her boyfriend. Despite their different perspectives, they quickly strike up a passionate affair. But when Delphine is summoned back home after a tragic incident and Carole’s stable life becomes upended, they soon realize that they are forced to fight and sacrifice in order for their love to survive.

Buoyed by impressive performances, Summertime nimbly traverses the contrasting social landscapes of rural and urban France. Guiding the way is the fresh-faced Izïa Higelin as our lead character Delphine, who embraces her new experiences with open arms. As such, the film establishes a pleasantly light-hearted tone, as she becomes involved in several playful exploits with Carole and her activist group. For her part, Cécile de France delivers the most compelling turn, tapping into Carole’s conflicted emotions and dynamic spirit. And together, she and Higelin are exciting to watch, whether it be in sensuous romantic trysts or their mischievous protest activities.

But while the performances by the two leads feel inspired, the overall filmmaking feels more generic. The idea of fighting – against the patriarchy and conservative values – is prevalent without, but the opposing forces to Delphine and Carole’s love affair rarely feel as oppressive as the premise suggests. In the city, they engage in public displays of affection without harassment, while the countryside environment of the third act also feel less antagonistic than initially suggested. Furthermore, Corsini’s restrained direction prevents the sweeping feel that the film sorely lacks. The romantic bliss isn’t quite as exhilarating, while the heartache doesn’t cut too deep. As a result, the plot’s tumultuous conclusion comes across as slightly unearned.

In conclusion, the moderate highs and lows of Delphine and Carole’s may not go down as a classic love story. But the sincerity of its actresses (including Noémie Lvovsky as Delphine’s quietly observant, unyielding mother) keeps you fully invested in their journey. In short, Summertime may be a minor addition to the canon of lesbian romance dramas, but it’s still worth a look.

Summertime opens in select theaters July 22, 2016.

GRADE: (★★★)