In the 1970s, Paris was a blossoming hotbed of cultural progression and social uprooting. Its politics reflected the times and was gradually moving away from traditional conservatism. In rural Limousin however, large overbearing French farmers still ruled the roost and it’s here that we’re made witness to the difficult and arduous relationship between two women as they try and manoeuver the strict, archaic mentality of the town.
Catherine Corsini’s embracing rendition of woman-meets-woman wraps its arms around two intriguing characters: Delphine (Izia Higelin), a young farmer’s daughter and Carole (Cecile de France), a slightly older and slightly more politically-inclined teacher living in Paris. Delphine is at once hugely spirited and passionately connected to the natural world around her. Carole is more mature in many ways and walks the line of a feminist campaigner unable to convincingly clarify her sexual position. The relationship between these two women works so seamlessly because they awaken in each other something wholly invigorating: Delphine becomes more politically-inclined and Carole starts to understand her sexual preferences.
Delphine’s journey is perhaps the more pronounced and readily available of the two. She begins the film entrenched in the rurality and dripping sunsets of Limousin, mowing and baling hay alongside her father, Maurice (Jean-Henri Compere). Whilst out on the farm, Maurice occasionally enquires about Delphine’s love life, although his questioning somewhat lets her off the hook given that she can truthfully reply that she isn’t seeing any men right now. These moments might seem glib but actually convey the subtle yet important social attitudes that these communities live by.
Delphine’s love interest is naturally another woman who confides in Delphine that she’s planning to get married. With a little suspension of disbelief, given transport and money are difficult things for a farmer’s girl to come by, Delphine quickly and, in fact, almost instantly transforms her life by upping and leaving to join her belle in Paris. There she meets Carole, whose flat is the hub of all kinds of ingenious feminist meetings where the result leads to the pinching of unsuspecting men along the capital. These mischievous women embody a very distinctive movement, but Carole intrigues Delphine partly because she doesn’t know exactly what she wants. Of course, that ends up being Delphine, as the two successfully and rapturously hook up almost immediately after meeting. There is a sensuality here that goes beyond that of similar films like ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ and is perhaps more akin to ‘Brokeback Mountain’ in the way that it implies eroticism without necessarily being titillating or obvious.
When Maurice ends up having a stroke, Delphine is called back to the farm and struck by the conundrum of whether she chooses the land she grew up in or the love she’s just found. She chooses to more or less take over the farm, eventually bringing Carole in tow where they spend many a night canoodling beneath hay bales while unsuspecting farm animals wander around them. It’s all very warm and cosy but still manages to retain a sense of eroticism. This is important as it’s something Corsini obviously feels central to the relationship. There needs to be a swirling, almost mystical sense of adoration in the air to bypass what could be a fairly bland, unromantic encounter between two woman. Corsini sets Summertime up as an ode to female sexuality and eroticism.
By Hollywood conventions Summertime might escalate into an intense, fiery and unrelenting set of encounters where each woman viciously and then passionately attacks one another with long, epic speeches of love and loss. However, the film ends incredibly undramatically: it is a reflection of the time and Corsini is seen in this instant to be the complete proprietor of realism. The Limousin locals have a specific idealogical outlook and in the 1970s, in this small town, it’s an unfortunate fact that the community had utmost power over anything they deemed antithetical to their beliefs. Summertime is a rather splendid example of being so undramatic that it almost becomes dramatic. An audience would be hard-questioned to have thought that the ending would roll out in such a manner.
Summertime is a rather wonderful little film that works on myriad of different levels. It is wholly realistic, delivers to us a brace of fascinating women that work as fascinating three-dimensional characters with issues and passions like everybody else, and determines to demonstrably elevate eroticism beyond simple entertainment and provocation. Catherine Corsini has done a stellar job weaving the intangibles of love, loss and land into an astute and earthy film that people should really get out and go see.
Summertime is out on DVD now.