Bittersweet love affairs on film rarely go well, it’s just their nature. In Summertime, Carole (Cécile de France) and Delphine (Izïa Higelin) find each other in a time of social upheaval in the France of 1971. Friends, to begin with, Delphine becomes attracted to Carole when she moves to Paris and joins Carole’s women’s rights group. At first unsure of the attraction, Carole throws herself headlong into Delphine and whatever fate may bring. But Delphine’s country home life comes knocking and neither women can anticipate what happens next.
After being hollowed out by 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Colour, I had heard about La Belle Saison (Summertime) from backtracking from a link to the GAZE festival website. After searching in vain for a cinema near me showing it (in the end, only the IFI ran it), I found it through Curzon’s Home Cinema VOD platform and settled down into watching it. I say settled down because it took me two days to watch this film. Not because of a fault of the film but I had to break off about halfway through and resumed it on the bus into Dublin City a morning later. Real life has this way of interrupting happiness and it’s up to the viewer to finish it for better or worse. The same goes for our two main characters, Carole and Delphine. While in Blue[…] Adele’s attraction to Emma is based on the younger girl’s infatuation with her slightly older lover, in Summertime, neither woman start attracted to each other but it’s Delphine who makes the first move. While Carole becomes swept up in the adventure of love with Delphine, the country girl is trying to escape the small minds of the homestead who constantly ask her when is she getting married. For Delphine, marriage is a destruction of self while to her family and friends, marriage is an affirmation of self. Marriage bonds you to the land and the land is everything. So she runs away to Paris to find her own identity.
The film plays two different tracks: how Delphine sees the world and how Carole sees it. For Carole, her fight is that women are seen and held in the same regards as men: armed with the rights and opinions that men are born with. She leads her group of women, meeting for impassioned talks at the local college, to challenge men’s positions of given authority by protesting in public and disrupting meetings where men espouse theories and concepts where women are excluded from the process. For her, the fight for equal rights is universal and at first, she welcomes Delphine into her group as a fellow sister in the cause. But once Delphine tells her she’s attracted to her, Carole doesn’t scorn her nor send her away. Instead, she is torn up by the fact that she’s in a relationship with Manuel (Benjamin Bellecour) and loves him but Delphine is such an intoxication that she is willing to throw all of that away. She just wants Delphine and nothing else. On top of that, she still doesn’t understand how Delphine and the women of the land where Delphine comes from can just accept the world as it is and not want to have equal footing with the men.
On Delphine’s side of things, she has never been into boys and from her teenage years has been in relationships with girls. The loss of her girlfriend from the village triggers an unconscious desire to escape the land of her mother and father to become a very conscious effort to escape to Paris and a different mindset. Delphine is the catalyst for everyone’s motivations. Because of their expectations of her, she rebels against them and in doing do, causes the drama. This is not to say that Delphine is aware of what she’s doing, rather that she can only react to other people. That in itself doesn’t constitute cruelty on her part. But when her parents pressure her into marrying, she leaves for Paris. When her father becomes ill, she leaves Carole behind only for her to follow her. She struggles with the weight of living back at home while Carole stays with them and the need to hide the relationship from her mother Monique (Noémie Lvovsky). She throws herself at Antoine (Kévin Azaïs) the boy in the village who loves her and is there for her whenever she needs when it seems that some of the other farmers know about her and Carole. But he rejects her because it isn’t true and he won’t live a lie. Finally, her father Maurice’s (Jean-Henri Compère) incapacitation means that Delphine rejects the free-wheeling lifestyle she had in Paris for the conservative clothing of the countryside.
These two opposing viewpoints create all the tensions and drama between the two lovers but it’s also the reason why it’s such a good love story. Once wrapped in each other, the world doesn’t matter to Delphine and Carole. They play, laugh, cry and never take their eyes off each other. Their lovemaking is animalistic and simple, charged with energy and fun. They are content in each other. It’s when the rest of the world is involved that things break down. Corsini keeps the scenes going in these cases where the actors visibly flinch when they are observed by others. Whether it’s Carole’s boyfriend matter of factly stating that she’s not welcome in his bed while she’s with Delphine or the look of stunned shock on Monique’s face when she finally discovers Delphine and Carole together, the two lovers act like they’ve done something wrong when in fact, they are hurting no one. Even the two people who should be upset the most (Manuel and Antoine) with them simply are not equipped to hate them. Heartbroken that it didn’t work out as they wanted, but never hate. It’s the people who have some measure of interest (Delphine’s mother, their friends, the villagers) in the two girls that interfere the most and cause them to doubt themselves and their relationship. A few reviews of the film cite the fact that the women’s rights causes that Delphine and Carole are in the middle of at the start of the picture go away once Carole arrives in Delphine’s town. For me, I find the two women’s struggle against the ordered world of the countryside to be an inverse reflection of the struggle on the streets of Paris. There, they fight against societal pressures but for the most part, they feel safe to do so. In the countryside, the fight is more basic: the right to be in love with whoever you want. Whatever about Carole’s fight for pregnancy termination rights for women or busting homosexual men out of sanitariums trying to “cure” them, the fight to claim Delphine’s soul is a harder fight.
A few reviews of the film cite the fact that the women’s rights cause that Delphine and Carole are in the middle of at the start of the picture go away once Carole arrives in Delphine’s town. For me, I find the two women’s struggle against the ordered world of the countryside to be an inverse reflection of the struggle on the streets of Paris. There, they fight against societal pressures but for the most part, they feel safe to do so. In the countryside, the fight is more basic: the right to be in love with whoever you want. Whatever about Carole’s fight for pregnancy termination rights for women or busting homosexual men out of sanitariums trying to “cure” them, the fight to claim Delphine’s soul is a harder fight. Please, also, understand that Corsini doesn’t make the people of the countryside evil or hateful towards outsiders or lesbians. It’s just for them, the world is ordered as they understand it and outside of that, it’s city life and whatever they believe in.
A truly wonderful thought occurred to me as I wrapped up the film: even throughout their fights over telling Delphine’s family about who she loves, the rejection of Carole by Manuel or even the fact that they are so different from each other, the two women never stop loving each other. They come together, are broken apart, brought back together and are pitted against each other for the right to exist. But never once does the one renounce the other. Even when bowing to familial pressures, Delphine never loses what makes Carole so special to her and neither does Carole. Cécile de France and Izïa Higelin are perfectly matched together, with de France’s higher learning, playful Carole becoming enraptured with the simply posed but elegantly smart Delphine as captured by Higelin. They act like two halves of a shell that found each other and neither performance can work without the other. The other actors act as an ensemble, slotting together so that your last two pieces of the puzzle will always be Carole and Delphine. The film ends bittersweet but not tragically so we have hope that, like our two voyagers, love springs eternal.
Delicate, heartbreaking and uplifting. Summertime is a film for all who love cinema and hope that cinema loves them