‘Arise, enslaved women!’
Beautifully shot, the widescreen images of the luscious French countryside contrast with the densely populated city in Catherine Corsini’s Summertime, a wonderfully realised character drama that reflects the attitudes of its time (it is predominantly set in 1971) and the wider social issues that remain relevant to this day. ‘This story is very personal,’ Corsini notes in an interview included on the disc, ‘It is myself, dear to me because my friend Elizabeth produced it. We worked on it for two years.’
Delphine Benchiessa (Izïa Higelin) is a country girl who can can handle with competence all the chores on her father Maurice’s (Jean-Henri Compère) farm, as well as helping her mother Monique (Noémie Lvovsky) with milking the cows and other agricultural activities. Monique would like her daughter to become a family woman, noting that ‘You can’t be alone forever; loneliness is a terrible thing.’ Perhaps Delphine could marry local boy Antoine (Kévin Azaïs), who clearly adores the girl, but she has her own opinions about that. Her friend, with whom she has had a brief lesbian relationship, decides to marry and insists that Delphine should move on as well. So move she does, to work in Paris, far away from the countryside she grew up in and to a completely different environment. Her rural community was very male centred but on the streets of the capital she encounters ‘the wild lot’, groups of women who insist on mocking masculinity. When some men they are taunting become aggressive, Delphine steps in, her physical prowess more than a match for the enraged males. She joins this woman’s group which meets regularly to discuss and argue political, gender and rights issues and Delphine soon befriends Carole (Cécile De France), a Spanish teacher entrenched in radical feminist ideology who is currently living with her boyfriend Manuel (Benjamin Bellecour). The group run protests, engage in strong abortion rights demonstrations and also rescue a gay man from asylum incarceration. Delphine falls for Carole and before long the two become lovers. But Maurice has a stroke, and his health and the financial consequences of him not working mean that Delphine must return to her old life and run the farm in the patriarchal agricultural community. Carole ditches both her male lover and city life to join Delphine in rural France. Can their relationship survive in this conservative community and can they conceal their love from a family who have clear views on female roles and intellect? Delphine’s future in a society she loves with its beautiful environment, conflicts deeply with her desires for a passionate romance with Carole.
Social changes and the expectations of different generations and communities combine in an engaging but bittersweet drama which focuses on the determined independence of its protagonist, exploring the dilemmas she faces in the context of family troubles. Delphine, despite her new educated life in Paris with its social and political progressions, is compelled to return home to the farm when her father becomes seriously ill. On top of this familial devotion – ‘Delphine would rather die than sell’ – she willingly gives up her cosmopolitan life. When Carole comes to stay she quickly endears herself to Monique, but when the truth about her relationship with Delphine is revealed – ‘I came here for your daughter because I love her’ – the mother’s response is shocking and selfish: ‘You’re a pervert and a liar.’ So this is a film which reflects the attitudes of the times as well as the younger women’s determination to change the status quo. The personal elements of Corsini’s story lie with the instigation of the narrative and the romance depicted as a sign of its times rather than as an aggrandising piece.
An emotional work shot in a way that emphasise the beauty of both its characters and its setting, Summertime is a film with both romance and revolution at its heart and comes highly recommended.