LA BELLE SAISON (Summertime). Starring: Cecile De France, Izia Higelin, Benjamin Bellecour, Noemie Lvovsky, Jean-Henri Compere, and Kevin Azais. Directed by Catherine Corsini. Rated MA 15+. Restricted. (Strong sex scenes). 106 min.
This is a French-Belgian romantic drama of two women, who meet in unlikely circumstances, and who form an intense and passionate attachment to each other. The film has won multiple awards.
The conservative 25-year old daughter of a farming family in rural France, Delphine (Izia Higelin), moves in the springtime of 1971 to Paris to find her independence. In Paris, she is caught up in the excitement and heady freedom-seeking of a group of rebellious activists. Unexpectedly, she is attracted to a 35-yr. old, radical feminist, Carole (Cecile de France), who is committed intensely to the cause of French women's liberation. They become infatuated with each other.
Carole separates from her live-in boyfriend, Manuel ((Benjamin Bellecour), to be with
Delphine, but while Delphine is in Paris, her father (Jean-Henri Compere) has a stroke, and her mother, Monique (Noemie Lvovsky), needs her to return home. Conflicted between love and duty, Delphine responds to the call of duty and returns to her family farm to help her mother. Distraught at separation from Delphine, Carole decides to join her, and the summer season (echoing the film's title) symbolises bucolic scenes of Delphine and Carole being with each other.
Delphine and Carole struggle to keep their attachment private, and Carole moves in to be Delphine's "Paris friend" at the family farm. Delphine feels the pressure to talk freely to her mother about her relationship with Carole, which is obvious to her mother and to Antoine (Kevin Azais), the family's farm-assistant, who is romantically attracted to Delphine. Half way through, the film moves from being a relatively uncomplicated story of love attachment between two women to being a dramatic portrayal of the tensions that Delphine's relationship to Carole creates. The film pulls back thinkingly from clear-cut depictions of assumed attachments. Delphine's mother, for example, knows how her daughter feels, but wants Delphine to marry Antoine, her childhood boyfriend, and Delphine doesn't entirely reject that idea, which hurts Carole. The emotional consequences for Delphine, Carole and Monique are complex, and the film winds itself to a resolution that is far from pleasing for anyone. We see a dying heterosexual relationship between Manuel and Carole, a fracturing of the relationship between Delphine and Antoine, major conflicts emerging in the relationship between Delphine and Carole, and a mother's pain.
Age and experience separate the two women, and the film contrasts the conservative background of Delphine with the liberal-political nature of Carole's culture. The film constantly contrasts personal struggle dramatically with social-political tensions, and when the two themes come into conflict with each other, the Director of the film (Catherine Corsini) nearly always chooses personal factors to solve the impasse. A concluding scene at a train station, which focuses on one of the women coming to a fateful-decision makes the film's point of view agonisingly clear.
The film captures the sexual chemistry between Delphine and Carole strongly, and Cecile de France and Izia Higelin play their roles with complete spontaneity and naturalness. The film accepts their relationship without moral debate, but the film is much more than a portrayal of lesbian attachment. It forcefully sets an intense relationship between two people into a social context that affects both persons differently, and it is the drama of those differences that lies at the real heart of the movie. The acting of Delphine, Carole, and Monique is wonderful, Corsini's direction is subtle and discerning, and the film is photographed beautifully.
This is a movie that effectively explores the complex psychological and social tensions that can accompany same-sex relationships, and it does so very movingly and with understanding.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released September 15th., 2016