François Ozon’s latest film “Summer of 85” is utterly disappointing to say the least. As a coming-of-age queer drama, it is so bland and lackadaisical that, if you have admired and enjoyed some of Ozon’s works like I have, you may actually want to confirm to yourself that it is really directed from Ozon, who has been mainly known for a number of stylish works ranging from “8 Femmes” (2002) to “Frantz” (2016).
Set in one French beach town during the summer of, yes, 1985, the story is mainly told through via the viewpoint of Alexis (Félix Lefebvre), an adolescent lad who has slowly been awakening to his homosexuality at the beginning of the story. During the opening scene, he suggests to one of his friends that they should ride his small boat together, but his friend says no to Alexis’ suggestion because of some girl, and you can sense Alexis’ disappointment even though he does not say anything.
Anyway, Alexis subsequently rides his small boat alone by himself, but then he gets his boat capsized while a storm is approaching to him and his capsized boat from the horizon. Fortunately, there comes another boat at the right time, and he is soon rescued by David (Benjamin Voisin), a teenager boy who is around his age and is also as good-looking as Alexis. Once their emergency is over, Alexia and David come to feel something clicking between them, and David willingly takes Alexis to his house just because Alexis seems to need to be cleaned and then dried.
We see how these two lads get closer to each other. When Alexis is introduced to David’s mother, David’s mother is so enthusiastic about her son having a new friend around him that she is willing to help Alexis taking off his clothes before his shower, and we get a weird moment as she casually handles his rather embarrassing status right in front of her eyes. In addition, she has no problem at all with having Alexis getting employed at her local shop as offered by David, and Alexis gladly takes the offer because, after all, his parents have expected him to earn some money via any part-time job since his summer vacation began.
While happily working together at the shop during daytime, David and Alexis also have lots of fun time together during nighttime. At one night, after watching a movie together at a local theater, they come across a drunken lad who almost gets himself killed because of that, and that amusing encounter leads to an odd moment which reveals David’s rather morbid fascination with death.
In the end, Alexis and David come to move beyond mere friendship, but Ozon’s screenplay, which is based on Aidan Chambers’ novel “Dance on My Grave”, holds considerable distance from whatever is being consummated between its two main characters, and we come to observe their romance without much care or attention even though the screenplay attempts to generate a sense of mystery via going back and forth between two different time points. As shown from the opening scene, Alexis gets himself into some serious trouble not long after something happened to David, and we often see him trying to process his complicated feelings on David via writing about what eventually happened between him and David.
Sadly, the part depicting the unexpected conflict between Alexis and David is quite contrived to say the least. There is a British girl whom Alexis encountered early in the story, and it is apparent to us that she will inadvertently cause a trouble between Alexia and David when she enters the picture again later in the story. Without knowing anything about Alexia and David’s relationship, the girl allows David to flirt with her, and that certainly hurts Alexis’ feeling a lot.
Around the narrative point where we finally get the answer to the mystery at the center of the story, the movie goes for a series of melodramatic moments, but most of them feel bland and unimpressive in their execution. In case of a scene where Alexis comes to disguise himself as a young girl for a certain morbid purpose, it is so silly and outrageous that we cannot possibly empathize with whatever he feels during this heavy-handed scene, and the same thing can be said about what is supposed to be the emotional climax of the film. Instead of being liberating or cathartic, this scene looks merely clumsy without any substantial emotional effect, and the following epilogue scene is hollow and superficial to say the least.
The main cast members of the movie try as much as they can, though most of them are not successful in their attempt to overcome the weak characterization of Ozon’s screenplay. While Félix Lefebvre and Benjamin Voisin are regrettably deficient in generating any sense of passion and desire, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Philippine Velge are hopelessly stuck in their one-note supporting roles, and Melvil Poupaud, who previously collaborated with Ozon in “By the Grace of God” (2019), is criminally under-utilized as Alexis’s compassionate schoolteacher.
In conclusion, “Summer of 85” is quite underwhelming compared to Ozon’s recent works such as “In the House” (2012) and “By the Grace of God”, which was relatively more restrained but still impressive for its humbly powerful drama about the survivors of sexual abuses in the Catholic Church in France. I must tell you that my condition was not that ideal when I watched the film during this afternoon, but I do remember well how often I was bored and disinterested during my viewing, and I do not think I will soon revisit it for any reevaluation.