Summer of 85 (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. François Ozon, France/Belgium, 2020, 101 mins, in French with subtitles

Cast:  Félix Lefebvre, Benjamin Voisin, Philippine Velge, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi

Review by Carol Allen

This beautifully made and very affecting film is a labour of love by its director François Ozon, who has dreamed of making it ever since he read the novel on which it is based, when he was a teenager. 

The novel’ by British writer Aidan Chambers is called Dance on My grave.  That is not a big spoiler for the film because we learn in the opening scenes that this relates to the accusation against young Alexis (Félix Lefebvre) and the reason why he is in police custody, while shortly after we discover that the grave in question is that of David Gorma (Benjamin Voisin)  

We then hear the story that leads up to this.   Alexis is 15, David 18 and the summer of 85 is the one where David seduced Alexis, they enjoyed an intense love affair and then tragedy struck.  

This is a gay love story which I suspect women in particular will love for the way it perfectly captures the intensity, joy, sadness and innocence of first love when a teenager, whatever your sexuality.  Nothing will ever be like that again.  And the title of the book refers to a promise the boys make to each other in what is then the unlikely event of either of them dying to dance joyfully on the other’s grave. 

Lefebvre as Alexis is like an innocent blond angel, which is David’s mother’s description of him, while Voisin as the bi-sexual David is less obviously good looking but dangerously sexy.   Their intense and obsessive relationship ends when David has an affair with Alexis’s young English au pair friend Kate (Philippine Velge).  Distraught with jealousy, Alexis heads off on his bike in tears and David pursues him on his motorbike.   Then tragedy strikes.

While the attention is largely on the two young men, there are also good performances from Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as David’s embarrassingly upfront Jewish mum, who first adores Alexis and then blames him for her son’s death, and from Velge as Kate, a young girl with perhaps wisdom beyond her years.  Also worthy of note is a lovely, gently comic scene in which Alexis’s loving, very working class mum (Isabelle Nanty) blithely accepts her son’s revelation that he is gay without the blink of an eye, referring merely to the fact that he takes after Uncle Jacky.   I wonder what is the story of Uncle Jacky.

Summer of 85 is released in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema 23rd October.