There are a couple of things you can count on when it comes to gay French filmmaker François Ozon.
First is that Ozon’s fascination with the past often means viewers embark on nostalgic odysseys, as in the cases of “Water Drops on Burning Rocks,” “8 Women,” “Potiche,” and “Frantz.” Additionally, like fellow gay filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, Ozon is loyal to certain actresses, casting them in more than one of his movies. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, for instance, has appeared in three Ozon pictures, including his latest, “Summer of 85” (Music Box Films).
In French with English subtitles, “Summer of 85” is based on a novel by Aidan Chambers with a screenplay adapted by Ozon. Set in 1985, it tells the tumultuous story of young gay love as experienced by 16-year-old Alexis (Félix Lefebvre). Alexis’s life was already complicated enough before he fell in love. He’s a smart, creative, sensitive guy who, in addition to having an obsession with death, is doing what he can to avoid working with his father on the shipyard dock in the seaside town where he lives with his parents (played by Isabelle Nanty and Laurent Fernandez).
When Alexis is rescued by teen “good shepherd” David (Benjamin Voisin), after capsizing in a boat Alexis borrowed from his friend Chris (Antoine Simoni), his summer plans undergo serious changes. Alexis is instantly swept up in David’s world which includes fast motorcycle rides, sailing in his boat Calypso, a job at the marine-oriented store David runs with his widowed mother Madame Gorman (Tedeschi), a fashion makeover, meals, clubbing, an amusement park, and sex. Lots of sex.
As we soon discover, this relationship was not meant to last. The more experienced David takes up with British au pair Kate (Philippine Velge), bringing Alexis’s dark, jealous side to the surface. Alexis and David have it out, and David is unnecessarily vicious towards Alexis. Then tragedy strikes!
“Summer of 85” is at least 30 minutes too long. Additionally, it abruptly switches back and forth in time – before and after the tragedy. It’s a little confusing and misleading, as we are not sure why it is that Alexis is in custody, why he has a caseworker (Aurore Broutin) meeting with his parents as well as Alexis’s writing instructor Monsieur Lefèvre (Melvil Poupaud, another actor who has previously appeared in Ozon’s films). It takes longer than it should get to the reveal, making it something of a disappointment. Ozon is a gifted artist and a slight misstep such as this can be overlooked as his earlier work more than makes up for it.
Screen Savor is a weekly column from SFGN’s film critic Gregg Shapiro. Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.