Summertime (2015)

Catherine Corsini’s 1970s troubled lesbian romance basks in an idyllic Summertime in France in the days of women’s lib.

Summer loving

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Sturdy country girl Delphine (rock musician Izïa Higelin) lives on her family farm in the Limousin region of France, doing heavy manual work and driving a tractor to help her overworked father (Jean-Henri Compere). Though her parents notice her sneaking out at night, they think it’s to see her childhood boyfriend Antoine (Kevin Azais), who she is expected to marry, not another girl. But when her girlfriend tells her it was nothing serious and she’s getting married, as she’s expected to do in that small town, Delphine decides to make a break. She moves to Paris where she starts a new life. She meets and falls in love with charismatic, beautiful blonde feminist Carole (Cecile de France), a more intellectual, sophisticated and slightly older woman, who is living happily with her understanding male partner (Benjamin Bellecour). Delphine attends noisy women’s lib meetings and gives the impression of being enthusiastic for the cause, though this is really to get close to Carole. Eventually she seduces her.

Delphine is already comfortable with her sexuality, though she hides it. Carole tries lesbianism and discovers feelings she never knew she had. Their romance develops quickly, intensely and graphically. For Carole, it’s part of her liberation. The theme of sexual identity in the context of the times is carried though in a raid Carole and her friends make to rescue a gay male friend from an institution where he has been incarcerated to ‘cure’ his sexuality.

But just as their love is growing, Delphine is suddenly called back to run the family farm when her father has a stroke and their possible separation seems to threaten their new relationship. Carole spontaneously decides to break with her boyfriend and she follows Delphine to stay with her on the farm as her ‘friend’.

Their love blossoms into passion as an idyllic summer passes, crops grow and they work together to harvest them. Delphine and Carole are shown in touchingly intimate scenes. But morals are different outside of the big city and they have to keep their relationship closeted from Delphine’s suspicious and hostile mother (actor-director Noemie Lvovsky) and from the villagers. But it’s a small community where it’s hard to keep anything hidden, gossip starts and the truth eventually comes out. But although politicised Carole wants to liberate the world and she was willing to sacrifice her past life for Delphine, stolid Delphine is not so brave and can’t liberate herself from the conservatism and homophobia she has grown up in.

The French title of the film is La Belle Saison, which could be translated as a more apt “the time is right”. Though the world in the 1970s was changing politically, it didn’t necessarily happen in personal terms. The film is a mixture of period urban women’s liberation scenes and rural drama and hinges ultimately on the choice between duty or convention and personal happiness. The three women – Delphine, Carole and Delphine’s mother – represent three very different perspectives on the changing – or unchanging – role of women. The epilogue, several years later, is intriguing.

Director Catherine Corsini’s best-known film, the 2001 Cannes competition title Replay, also featured a tortured yet passionate relationship between two women, one of them played by Emmanuelle Beart.

Summertime is released on 15 July 2016 in the UK.

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