As a queer woman, I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s difficult to find a convincing lesbian film that doesn’t fall victim to the seemingly ever-present male gaze. Seriously, how many times do I have to endure lengthy pornographic scissoring scenes in order to get some sort of gay girl romance? It’s exhausting. Miraculously, however, French director Catherine Corsini’s Summertime (La Belle Saison), is an extraordinary exception to that tiresome rule.
It’s the early 1970s, and Delphine (Izia Higelin) is a farm girl born and raised in the south of France. In the opening scene, we’re provided with sprawling shots of the family’s farm, and we’re introduced to Delphine and her hardworking father, Maurice (Jean-Henri Compere). “You can’t be alone forever,” Maurice tells his daughter after she claims she never wants to be married. Only moments later, we discover the reasoning behind her ambivalence toward men when she sneaks out of the house to meet up with a girl whom she’s romantically involved with. As a result of the rampant homophobia of the time and place, Delphine’s girlfriend drops a bomb: she tells Delphine that she’s marrying a man, and defends this decision by matter-of-factly stating that their relationship never would have lasted or progressed in such an environment, anyway.
This immediate heartbreak, though it feels rushed, serves as the catalyst for the rest of the story. Soon after, Delphine impulsively packs up her things and ditches the conservative countryside for Paris (definitely a cliché move, but the plot would remain stagnant without it). Once she arrives in the city, Delphine is coincidentally thrust into a rambunctious pack of radical feminists, and they invite her to attend their weekly meetings. There, she meets the spirited and fiery Carole (Cecile De France), the leader of the Parisian women’s lib movement, and what happens next is to be expected – the two young women fall madly in love.
Just as their fiercely impassionate affair gains momentum and seems to hold promise, Delphine’s father falls life-threateningly ill, and she’s called home to tend the farm in his absence. Unenthused about the distance that this will put between them, Carole decides to accompany Delphine to the countryside. For weeks, the pair manages to successfully keep their relationship a secret, sneaking around in the night, fooling around in the fields, making love wherever and whenever possible (at one point, they even have a herd of cattle as their spectators). Their recklessness, though sexy and riveting, foreshadows an imminent misstep; and when Delphine has to decide whether or not she’s going to come out to her family, drama inevitably ensues.
The plotline sounds slightly stereotypical, perhaps even a little stale. However, Corsini does an excellent job emphasizing the effect of the historical context – homosexual relations were far more outlandish in the 1970s, particularly among women, than they are today – thus there is more potential for tear-jerking tragedy, which this film takes full-fledged advantage of. Additionally, the dynamic between De France and Higelin is perhaps the most convincing lesbian portrayal I’ve seen on screen to date (and trust me, I watch A LOT of lesbian romance). That being said, as a French lesbian drama, this film begs to be compared to the award-winning Blue is the Warmest Color; however, La Belle Saison is, dare I say, better. Unlike Blue, Summertime boasts a female director and cinematographer, which inherently makes the sex scenes less raunchy, over the top and, as I mentioned earlier, male-gazey. Whereas the sex scenes in the former could simply be described as the two girls fucking each other, the latter represents the definition of intimate and eloquent lovemaking, despite the use of explicit nudity. The romance is palpable, genuine, and gutting.
I’ll warn you; Summertime will break your heart. It’ll probably drive you to seek comfort in an entire box of double-stuffed Oreos as you watch it. But, the story is so well shot, told, and acted, that the tears you are bound to shed are 100% worth it.
Summertime is released in select theaters today, and you can watch the trailer here:
Images courtesy of Strand Releasing
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An excessively queer Aquarius with a LOT of opinions. Things I'm passionate about include, but are not limited to: writing (duh), my pet bunnies/animals in general, LGBTQIA+ issues, Sleater-Kinney, massive helpings of spaghetti, RuPaul's Drag Race, tacky horror movies, never shutting up about astrology/how gay I am, et cetera.
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