In one of the most resplendent scenes in Catherine Corsini’s Summertime, country girl Delphine (Izïa Higelin) pushes the Parisian radical-feminist Carole (Cécile de France) up against a wall in a cobblestoned alleyway, and begins to gently kiss her. Starting with the sun-soaked couple in profile, the camera begins to circle around them slowly, its movement compounding the giddying effect of Carole’s surging passion. By the time it finishes its 180-degree revolution, Carole has made a concurrent about-turn from confused ambivalence to heaving, uncontained lust; from insisting on her heterosexuality a few moments ago to reciprocating Delphine’s kiss with rapturous desire.
It is at such moments, where Catherine Corsini’s deft lyricism palpably renders the raw, spontaneous electricity of romance, that Summertime shines — even as it stumbles on the pitfalls of melodrama.
In the summer of 1971, Delphine moves to Paris and by chance encounter, meets Carole, the vivacious, outspoken leader of a women’s liberation group. Just as their relationship takes flight, Delphine’s father suffers a stroke and she is forced to leave Paris to take care of his farm. Carole, coming to terms with her own sexuality and love for Delphine, follows.
The shift to the conservative, rural setting brings about relationship complications that are somewhat predictable, but framed by the backdrop of the 1970s feminist movement, they synecdochally gesture towards larger questions of what liberation can mean for women across class and socio-cultural lines. Carole is introduced to us in the first half of the film gleefully groping men on the streets of Paris in an act of gender-revenge, disrupting pro-life lectures, and yelling “Down with the bourgeois society!” in the nude from balconies. Her fiercely individualistic, radical feminism cannot acquiesce to the closeted existence Delphine’s home demands. Delphine, however, is waging her own feminist battle by trying to run her father’s farm in a patriarchal agricultural community, but that comes at a cost: compliance to the community’s prudish sexual mores. “You keep saying women have to be independent”, she says to Carole in the midst of a quarrel. “I am fighting for this farm.” At moments, tensions between the two of them play out like debates within feminism itself: What does it mean to be a truly liberated woman? What particular combination of sacrifices and victories constitutes the independence that Carole and Delphine seek? And more poignantly, what is the value of an independence won at the expense of love, or family, or an honest life?
With its personal-meets-political premise, Summertime sets the stage for a candid, humanistic look at these questions and contradictions—but ultimately, they do not amount to much more than set dressing. Corsini’s lens is fixated elsewhere, on the thrills and throes of romantic drama. It is a choice that serves her strengths well: Corsini’s stylistic flair, coupled with the crackling chemistry between Higelin and de France, make the film a gorgeous, infectious thing, spilling over with lush emotion. The lovemaking scenes are something to behold, whether it is the couple’s youthful canoodling in Delphine’s dingy little Paris apartment, punctuated by the peppy, anachronistic beat of The Rapture’s “In the Grace of Your Love”, or them rolling around naked in a vast, grassy country field with truly gay abandon. But the accompanying melodrama—particularly, Delphine’s back-and-forth about running away with Carole, and an epilogue that tries to take the sting out of a painfully honest conclusion with mawkish didacticism—dissolves the specific complexities of Delphine’s and Carole’s circumstances into simple, unambiguous choices and regrets.
[Photo Credit: Strand Releasing]