My Summer of Love (UK, 2005) *** 1/2
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski; written by Mr. Pawlikowski & Michael Wynne, based on the novel by Helen Cross; photography, Ryszard Lenczewski; editing David Charap; production design, John Stevension; music, Alison Goldfrapp & Will Gregory; produced by Tanya Seghatchian & Christopher Collins; a Focus Features release. 87 minutes. Rated R. CAST: Natalie Press (Mona), Emily Blunt (Tamsin), Paddy Considine (Phil).
Much ado about something applies to this movie and its British (Polish-born) maker who moved to England when he was a teen-ager. Later he studied literature and philosophy at Oxford through a post-graduate level; worked on British TV “creative” documentary-in 16 mm.-- the feature “Last Resort” which, in 2001, received the BAFTA ( British Academy of Film and TV) prize for “most promising British newcomer); and in 2005 “My Summer of Love” was awarded “Best British Film.”
The source of “My Summer of Love” is a novel which is quite complicated. The film’s plot –which takes place in the 1980s in West Yorkshire countryside-- is much simplified. It strictly concentrates on two female and one male characters. 16-year old Mona is the daughter of father she has never known. Her mother runs the family pub called “The Swan.” Phil is Mona’s 20ish or 30ish brother. Mother dies of cancer. Phil, has recently finished his prison sentence for armed robbery. In jail he becomes a born-again Christian, and when freed he begins to proselytize the village’s population. He pours all liquor down the drain, makes a religious gathering-place of the pub, constructs an enormous cross to be planted nearby. Later, when Phil leads a crowd of true believers to the hill where the mega-cross is erected, the sequence comes out as a distinction between religion and religiosity.
Mona, a not exactly literate girl, lives in solitude and confusion. She has a lover, a much older –and married-- man whom we see just once (I believe). He has brutal sex with Mona, inside a car, then right away insults the girl and breaks with her.
While sitting somewhere on the grass, she encounters Tamsin, 17, as the latter is riding her thoroughbred horse. This is the start of a major friendship-plus. Beautiful Tamsin is the daughter of an affluent father—who has an affair with his secretary—and a mostly absent mother. The family’s home is a lavish mansion which fascinates Mona. Ironically, her means of locomotion is a scooter that lacks a motor because she cannot afford one.
It is summertime. Tamsin has been temporarily dismissed from her chic prep school for-- she tells Mona in an amused tone—“being a bad influence” on her schoolmates. That’s easy to believe.
She is, in her own eyes, an educated, know-a-lot sophisticate, who drops names such as Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Shakespeare, Freud, etc. , plus Edith Piaf –whose songs she plays on recordings- and other celebrities that Mona has never heard of. She herself plays the cello and performs “The Swan” by Saint-Saens… a composition that, in a funny way bears the name of Mona’s family pub!
Tamsin’s gallivanting father and peripatetic mother are away as usual. The manor becomes the main meeting ground of the two girls. The old “opposites attract each other” soon applies to the odd couple. And “meeting” evolves into trysting which gradually moves around, from glimpses of bodies in bathtubs – in which Mona gives an amusing imitation of Linda Blair’s howling in “The Exorcist”-- to the young ladies’ nude bathing in a stream. But nakedness is so vague and un-explicit that the movie’s R rating, is, as it often happens, just another proof of the censors’ prudishness.
Within the manor, there is the room of Tamsin’s sister who died of anorexia. This sad event is one of the semi-explanations of Tamsin’s psychological make-up. Also, among several elements, I caught a glimpse of the famous painting by Jean-Louis David, “The Assassination of Marat.” Merciless Marat, a major figure of the French Revolution –he made lists of undesirables to be guillotined – was killed in his bathtub by a woman, Charlotte Corday.
The relationship of the girls has been cleverly treated by writer-director Pawlikowski, and with more subtleness than meets the eye. Tamsin may be something of a manipulator, but then Mona also comes into her own and expands into a credible character, one with an increasing will and personality. All that, within the limits of time and place and the evolution of class differences.
The film packs much in its 87 minutes. It is certainly full of effective developments and improvisations which are solid; by excellent performances; by a sexual relationship that avoids crassness; by the clear prediction of sound and fury which signify much but will probably not last forever.
Mr. Pawlikowski says that he does not like contemporary British films –but loves those of the 196Os. That, and I quote “What I really wanted to avoid was making on of these so-called gritty realist films about contemporary Britain and contemporary youth.” He got what he wanted, a tale of relationships that could be any time and any place.
Warning the viewers. When the movie reaches is end and the screen shows the long list of credits, do not leave. There’s a great song sung by Edith Piaf, perhaps her best. It is a treat.