Summer Things

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Movie Review by Neil Ryan

Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Carole Bouquet, Michel Blanc, Lou Doillon, Jacques Dutronc

Director: Michel Blanc

SUMMER THINGS is an ensemble comedy-drama from France that contains elements of soap opera, farce, and chick-flick. Charlotte Rampling plays Elizabeth, a well-heeled housewife who is planning a vacation to a coastal town where she spent childhood holidays. Accompanying her will be her single-mother friend Julie (with whom Elizabeth’s husband Bertrand once had an affair) and her financially destitute neighbours Veronique, Jerome, and their son Loic. Bertrand opts to stay at home – using the premise of a heavy workload to mask the fact that he wishes to pursue his latest infidelity with one of his employees. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Bertrand’s charmless and amoral daughter Emilie is conducting an affair of her own with another of his employees, Kevin, and they are going on holiday together to Chicago financed by money that Kevin has embezzled from Bertrand’s company.

Once they have settled into their hotel Elizabeth and her fellow holidaymakers find that their break only serves to exacerbate the complications in their lives. Elizabeth befriends fellow hotel guest Lulu who is suffering under the paranoid attentions of her compulsively jealous husband who is determined to uncover (and avenge) evidence of his wife’s supposed affair. Jerome, meanwhile, decides that his family will be better off without him but they are too busy with their own distractions to notice his descent into suicidal despair. The flighty Julie embarks on an affair with a serial womanizer who is staying at the hotel: she wonders whether she has finally found a long-term partner while he continues to tally up the notches on his bedpost.

Matters complicate, misunderstandings magnify, and everyone veers between happiness and despair as they realize that they have to make major decisions about the course their future lives will follow. All of the plot strands collide, mesh, and finally come to a head when, after the holiday, Elizabeth hosts a garden party and invites all of the protagonists.

Given the potentially dark and complex subject matter (infidelity, suicide, loss of innocence, attempted murder) director Michel Blanc maintains a surprisingly light touch and all of his characters manage to appeal and infuriate in equal measure. And although just desserts are meted out in some instances other dilemmas are only partially resolved, thus he avoids spoonfeeding the audience simple resolutions. SUMMER THINGS is an attractive looking film and although some of the humour is diluted because reading subtitles can detract from the immediacy of the dialogue, this does not diminish the overall quality.

4 out of 6 stars