sat 13/04/2024

Our Eternal Summer review - tragedy taps authentic teenage emotions in Marseille | reviews, news & interviews

Our Eternal Summer review - tragedy taps authentic teenage emotions in Marseille

Our Eternal Summer review - tragedy taps authentic teenage emotions in Marseille

Innocence ends abruptly for a group of school leavers in Emilie Aussel's promising directorial debut

Before the fall: Marcia Feugeas, Matthieu Lucci, Agathe Talrich (three at centre) in 'Our Eternal Summer'MUBI

The French seaside has been the setting for all kinds of summer holiday capers. We are used to the idea that this is a place where young people set about finding out who they are. At the top of the quality spectrum are Éric Rohmer’s well-observed comedies of manners like Pauline at the Beach (1983) and A Summer's Tale (1996). Down at the bottom, there are shockers like Axelle Laffont’s Milf (2018).

The trope normally involves a portrayal of a relatively carefree existence. Emilie Aussel has a different idea in mind, however. Her feature debut Our Eternal Summer starts off in a fun-loving mode, but the destination she takes it to is somewhere far less comforting. Even the first line, spoken by Lise (the excellent Agathe Talrich) offscreen during the opening credits, is ominous: “I always liked the summer. And the summer when we were 18 was going to be better than the others.”

For the first quarter of an hour, Marseille provides a wonderfully hedonistic backdrop for Lise and her companions. They indulge in horseplay with garden hoses around swimming-pools and mess around with alcohol. Then these school-leavers are up on a rooftop with a sea view for a party with DJs leading them into the Mediterranean heat, adventures, and uncertainties of the night. And day or night, they are invariably and irresistibly drawn back to act out their teenage strops, tiffs, and reconciliations amid the neo-classical splendour of the fountains, statues, and columns of the Palais Longchamp.

There are enquiries about the night before (“Vous avez niqué?"/ "Did you…?"). Joints are passed around amid much giggling. The bad versus the “divine” in first dates is dissected. There is even a more obviously staged moment when they assemble and form up in a neat backlit line at the Plage des Prophètes to watch a sunset.

But disaster strikes when cheerful, fearless, outgoing Lola (Marcia Feugeas) drowns. There is silence, then anger, confusion, recriminations. Each of the survivors goes through her or his own particular hell, especially the protagonist LIse, Lola’s quiet, cautious, yet resolute best friend. Lise's boyfriend Malo, played by Matthieu Lucci, one of the few trained actors in the cast, also warrants our empathy as the tragedy and its aftermath put his relationship with Lise under strain – and then breaks it (pictured below: Agathe Talrich, Matthieu Lucci).

Aussel has said that she wants above all to create a timeless “cinema of emotion rather than of script”. The literary-minded will spot a nod in the direction of Gustave Flaubert here. Aussel essentially removes the outside world from the film. There are no adults, no deadlines or money, no mobile phones, just as there is no investigation into Lola's disappearance. Reality is suspended so the teens' emotional flux can be observed at close quarters. The audience just has to deal with it. And Aussel is not averse to taking her fiction further: she brings Lola back as a spectral presence for Lise to reminisce with at the end.

There are, it has to be said, some very odd moments just past the hour mark in this 74-minute film. It is not clear why Antonin Artaud’s 1925 “Letter to the Legislator: About Drug Law” gets recited – and breakdanced over – while gold glitter body-spray is spritzed over the teens under bright spotlights, all to the thump-thump of a soundtrack devised by electronica duo Postcoïtum (Bertrand Wolf and Damien Ravnich). Aussel doubtless has her reasons.

At its best, Our Eternal Summer is highly affecting in the way it shows the impact the ordeal has on these young people. We see how – drawn together in a combination of need, affection and desire – they are deepened as individuals. And we feel it. Given that the cast was recruited through small ads and “castings sauvages” in Marseille, and that hardly any of them had prior acting experience, Aussel – who was admittedly able to rehearse them at length – has pulled off a remarkable feat of emotional authenticity.


Reality is suspended so the teens' emotional flux can be observed at close quarters


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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