La Belle Saison (Summertime)

Izïa Higelin and Cécile de France are both very good as a pair of lovers in this early 1970’s-set French romance, which has a strong theme of female empowerment running through the story, as well as a fresh take on that age-old dilemma about living life in the city or life in the countryside. Higelin plays Delphine, the daughter of farmers in the Limousin region, who we initially find in a secret relationship with another woman (secret because the woman in question is about to marry a man, because of conservative attitudes to lesbianism in rural France at the time, and because Delphine has not yet told her parents about her sexuality). When Delphine is subsequently dumped she decides to leave the countryside behind and moves to Paris. It’s here, by chance, that she meets Carole (de France), a prominent activist in the city’s women’s liberation movement; in fact Delphine actually rescues Carole when a stunt – a group of women run along a street slapping the backsides of random men – turns into a fairly ugly scene. Delphine is inspired by the politics and spirit of those involved in the movement and is also attracted to Carole; the feeling is mutual and soon enough the pair enter into a relationship.

Catherine Corsini’s film attempts to highlight some of the differences between urban and rural life at the time, though thanks to one scene showing a public anti-abortion meeting it’s not as if Paris is solely portrayed here as an ultra-forward-thinking, progressive city; the countryside is, however, shown to be conservative by comparison. At one point Delphine chooses to give up her life in the French capital and returns home to help out on the farm when her father becomes ill, and Carole follows her to the countryside, happily helping out on the farm at first before gradually growing more and more frustrated by the newly-clandestine nature of their relationship; Delphine’s mother (Noémie Lvovsky) does not know that her daughter is gay, and there’s a suggestion in the story that Delphine feels she won’t be taken seriously by other local farmers in the event of her sexuality being made public, despite the fact that she can clearly run a farm on her own. And so the principal question is whether they will survive as a couple, with one drawn to the city and one controlled ultimately by a sense of familial duty, with one determined to be open about her sexuality and the other hesitant. Simultaneously, Carole realises that she doesn’t belong on the farm, but the lifestyle is in Delphine’s blood, and part of her wants to stay at home despite having to hide her love, deal with gossip-mongering male farmers and fend off the misguided attention of childhood friend Antoine (Kévin Azaïs, impressive here after a good turn in last year’s Les Combattants, aka Love At First Fight).

belle-saison-kevin-azaïs

Kévin Azaïs in Summertime

There’s a lightness of touch throughout from the director, who films the more intimate scenes between the two women in a tender, straightforward fashion while also drawing on the bucolic setting to create a viewing experience that is often restful and unhurried. Simply watching Carole and Delphine strolling around together in golden patches of light or working on the farm – lifting bales of hay, driving tractors, etc. – becomes quite pleasant in and of itself, though there is a point of course at which the drama must take over. It does so in a mostly satisfactory fashion, building to a tearjerker ending that long feels inevitable, with Corsini and co-writer Laurette Polmanss using the rather clichéd but still-powerful setting of a train station at a crucial juncture. There are strong performances by Higelin – a musician who has only recently started acting – and de France, and in their scenes together they share an easy and believable chemistry. Somewhat pleasingly the film also incorporates a rather positive and affirmative coda that – pure speculation here, I admit – a male writer or director might not think to include, and unlike some epilogues it feels wholly necessary with regard to the two characters and the way in which their personal and public lives are to be perceived by the viewer.

Directed by: Catherine Corsini.
Written by: Catherine Corsini, Laurette Polmanss.
Starring: Izïa Higelin, Cécile de France, Noémie Lvovsky, Kévin Azaïs.
Cinematography: Jeanne Lapoirie.
Editing: Frédéric Baillehaiche.
Music:
Grégoire Hetzel.
Certificate:
15.
Running Time:
105.
Year:
2016.

 

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