Summer of 85 review: Francois Ozon directs ‘earnest coming-of-age romance’

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French director François Ozon is no stranger to films brimming with romance and sexuality and now he offers us a brand new one combined once more with a coming-of-age journey.

Based on the 1982 British young adult novel Dance on My Grave by Aidan Chambers, Summer of 85 follows lonely yet creative teen Alexis (Félix Lefebvre) who lives on a picturesque coastal town in Normandy with his loving yet somehow distant parents.

One day, Alexis goes out sailing when his boat capsizes and he is rescued by the charismatic David Gorman (Benjamin Voisin). From here Alexis is taken under David’s wing and meets his overly familiar mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), who encourages the pair to develop a friendship.

As Alexis spends more and more time with David, who calls him ‘Alex’, he begins to come further out of his shell and the friendship between them begins to develop into something all the more special.

However, from early in the film we know that this connection is destined to end in tragedy.

Summer of 85 is a new teen romance from Francois Ozon, starring Félix Lefebvre (right) as Alexis and Benjamin Voisin (right) as David
(Image: Curzon)

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Despite tackling some weighty material at times, Ozon offers a much more innocent and playful tale of maturation here than his previous entry into the genre, the highly erotic and cynical Young and Beautiful.

Here the director displays the rich colours and breezy possibilities of a teenage summer romance, providing a highly watchable and sweet drama that while falling into some of the director’s more melodramatic tendencies feels honest and earned.

David opens up Alex's life to some whole new possibilities
(Image: Curzon)

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Ozon’s two lead actors are particularly charming. Lefebvre makes an angel-faced and sympathetic protagonist whose sensitivity makes him a sweet and likeable anchor for the film, while Voisin has the harder job of the two as the more magnetic yet unknowable David but pulls this off with aplomb.

Ably supporting the pair is fellow newcomer Philippine Velge as English beauty Kate, who becomes a friend and foil to the lead duo and is played with a natural warmth and tenderness.

Alex and David's relationship deals with the presence of English visitor Kate (Philippine Velge)
(Image: Curzon)

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With its nostalgic 1980s aesthetic and sunny European climate as the backdrop of a gay romance, there will undoubtedly be comparisons to Call Me By Your Name. However, the love story here comes with a much more critical approach to teenage infatuation despite somehow feeling all the more innocent than much of Ozon’s other work and Luca Guadagnino’s Italian romance.

If an element of the film falls down it is in the half-hearted attempt at a mystery surrounding what tragedy befalls the pair and Alex’s involvement in it. Yet even then, the final scenes which handle the resolution to this are played with such heart – and a touchingly used Rod Stewart track – letting the film keep audience investment throughout.

Francois Ozon filming on-set with his leading men
(Image: Curzon)

Whether it is through stolen moments of passion, neon-drenched nights on the dance floor to 1980s bangers from the likes of The Cure and Bananarama, or adolescent conversations about dreams for the future, Summer of 85 is a satisfying addition to the coming-of-age genre and another successful addition to François Ozon’s filmography.

Verdict

Summer of 85 is an earnest coming-of-age romance that makes the most of its colourful eighties aesthetic and charming performances from newcomers Félix Lefebvre and Benjamin Voisin.

Summer of 85 is released in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema on October 23, 2020.

What is your favourite coming-of-age tale? Let us know in the comments below.

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