That Summer burns love in the name of Art
by Domenico La Porta
02/09/2011 - Paul meets Frédéric, a painter who lives with Angèle, an actress who appears in films in Italy. To have enough to live on whilst waiting to become an actor, Paul works as an extra. On a film set, Paul meets Elisabeth who is also an extra. They fall in love and move in together in the house of Frédéric and Angèle who live in Rome.
The least one can say about Philippe Garrel’s films is that they don’t leave people indifferent. For every boo heard at the press screening at the 68th Venice Film Festival where That Summer screened in competition, somewhere — on the terraces of the Villaggio Del Cinema, in the queues or in the seated rows of the press conference — there is an impassioned conversation about the film and its actors. Among the cast is Louis Garrel, the director’s son who is in the habit of appearing in his father’s films, alongside Monica Bellucci in a central role that the Italian actress seems to be particularly fond of. That Summer belongs to another era and a different way of making films. The director admits it himself: he makes films for art’s sake and cares little about the public’s response. Whence this cinematic object, with its title (the French title being Un Été Brûlant) seemingly dropped in (from another film?) and its reinterpretation of a classic revered by the director: Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt.
Garrel is constantly experimenting and his non-conformism doesn’t go down easily. It has to be said that, despite the long rehearsal periods with the actors (almost two years), the shoot was completed quickly. The scenes in the film were done in one take only. This is perhaps not the best way of working with Bellucci who often lapses into affect and only rarely manages to strike the right tone, which is better balanced among the other actors, but the interest of the film doesn’t lie there.
An academic exercise in style financed by France, Switzerland and Italy, That Summer plunges viewers into a reflection on Art in general and more precisely painting as a politics of life. “I could do that all my life” says the character of Paul (Jérôme Robart) when referring to Frédéric’s daily life which he compares to the idleness of holidays. “Well just do it then,” the latter replies. But not just anyone is an artist in his soul and Frédéric’s way of life has a price: that of the false love to which he clings like a parasite. Deprived of this stimulant, the young man dies and plunges everyone into darkness. For Paul and his partner, it’s difficult to find the path of real life again after that.
(Translated from French)