Summertime is a film about the ambiguity of timing, though perhaps not at its surface. Catherine Corsini, who directs, is chiefly concerned with the relationship burgeoning between Delphine (Izïa Higelin) and Carole (Cécile de France). The latter is a feminist Parisian teacher and the former a farmer’s daughter, new to the city. Chance or perhaps fate intervenes to allow them to meet; the right bus is taken at the right time. It is 1971.
The film relies throughout on certain well worn clichés, with a script co-written by the director and Laurette Polmanss. Young Delphine moves away from countryside trappings and discovers the feminist movement. She also discovers an older woman in Carole. The mentioned trappings are riddled with a bigotry that emerges later on, the work’s portions being neatly divided by location. The urban gives way to the rural, the first flush of attraction deepens to encounter complications. And yet Summertime is lovely. Jeanne Lapoirie’s cinematography provides an appropriate sunlit backdrop and despite the tropes that are used the story succeeds by virtue of deft performances.
It would have been too easy for Delphine to be the naive party and Carole the wise seducer, teaching her the ways of the world. Instead, it is the educator who is caught off guard by Delphine’s pursuit. It is Carole who – at least initially – is unsure about her sexuality. The first part of the film is more compelling than what follows, the audience following Delphine into the tumult of leftist politics.
The women are akin to their respective landscapes here, the Parisian being as verbose as her lover is physical. The role of Carole calls on de France to turn impulsive and to maintain that spirit; she does so by reaching for a bright, energetic note. The leads share a palpable chemistry that renders even the slower scenes watchable and it takes very little here to convince the audience that the two are falling in love. Lots has been said of the nudity onscreen and it’s worth noting that the shots of the women are always naturalistic, never gratuitous.
The sweetness of that initial time in Paris fades in the second half of the film as Delphine is forced to leave the city. Carole, obviously, follows. Higelin manages to reconcile her character’s assuredness with the oft-inevitable regression that comes from returning home. Instead of provocative protest songs there is an ailing father (Jean-Henri Compère). There is endless work. Carole, for all her ardour, cannot understand Delphine’s inner conflict. Her rival is not the loyal Antoine (Kévin Azaïs ) but the land itself. Despite the prejudice of the locals and of her own mother, Delphine loves her farm.
Praise has quite rightly gone to Higelin and de France for their performances but the supporting roles too are both well drawn and acted. Not one is reduced to type. Delphine’s mother Monique (Noémie Lvovsky) is sympathetic despite her close mindedness, her defining characteristic being one of resignation. Lvovsky’s best scenes are opposite de France, whose progressiveness provokes a range of emotion in Monique. As for the men, both Azaïs and Benjamin Bellecour as Carole’s boyfriend manage in limited time to bring depth to love interests that the audience are rooting against. If their potential as characters is curbed it’s only because this is a film where the inner lives of women take centre stage.
There is a certain inevitability to the story’s conclusion. Corsini who keeps a mostly tight reign on pacing includes an excessive scene towards the end. The leads stand waiting upon a platform. It is a pivotal moment. There were parallels I appreciated – the right train, taken at the right time, may change their lives. Yet the same scene could have unfolded at an earlier point on the farm with the audience left less complacent about the outcome. When considered against all that has unfolded before and around it though, the heightened drama of the moment isn’t so jarring. If the film wants to prolong a season for just a little longer than advisable, then it is merely keeping in step with its characters.