François Ozon’s newest film will, unfortunately, inevitably be compared to Call Me By Your Name — which is a sort of blessing and curse. On one hand, it will make it decidedly more marketable, especially in the US. On the other, it’s a disservice to both films to lump them together solely because of the gay male relationship at the center of their respective narratives and the (admittedly not minor) matter of both also being ’80s period pieces.
Summer of 85, like Call Me By Your Name before it, is based on a literary source and takes place in ’80s Europe, but the similarities are mostly rooted in affect and have little to nothing to do with the stories they tell. Without spoiling any of Summer of 85’s many surprises, it’s safe to say that it’s a much darker film; one that has less of an interest (and less of a success) at being emotionally resonant than throwing dramatic twists at the viewer. In other words, it feels like an Ozon film.
As an Ozon film, it also fixed some of the issues that I had with Call Me By Your Name — mainly, it just not being all that sexy. Ozon has never shied from sexuality in his films, particularly in his erotic thrillers like Swimming Pool and Double Lover, and that’s no different here. Though it may not border on the explicit nature of something like Stranger By the Lake, the sexual tension here is palpable and there is much more of an emphasis placed on skin and touching than in Call Me By Your Name.
Summer of 85 is ultimately less about a romance and more about an individual, sort of like a gay Pauline at the Beach, and the Rohmer comparisons don’t stop there. It is also a loving recreation of its time period and beautifully shot on 16mm, which makes it even moreso look the part. It’s a flawed film and not one of Ozon’s best (he honestly works better when dealing with genre) but it deserves to stand on its own and, if nothing else, Félix Lefebvre deserves to become a star via his performance here.