La Belle Saison (Summertime)
. . . draws beautiful performances from both women.
Directed by Catherine Corsini
Written by Catherine Corsini and Laurette Polmanss
Rated MA 15+, 106 minutes
In rural France, in 1971, a young woman labours with her father and mother to work a small farm in the Limousin. Delphine (Izia Higelin) drives the tractor, makes the hay, feeds and milks cows. At night she disappears for long ‘walks’ and her father wonders when she will allow herself to get hitched.
It’s obvious even before we see her kiss a local girl that Delphine is lesbian, but that’s perhaps a reflection of our times. In 1971, in rural France, it is not hard to credit that her mother Monique (Noemie Lvovsky) and her father Maurice (Jean-Henri Compere) would have neither clue nor suspicion. Sitting outside one night by herself, Delphine makes a wordless decision and the action moves effortlessly to Paris, as she starts a new life in the capital. There she meets the beautiful and spirited Carole (Cecile De France), who’s older and more radical. Delphine soon becomes part of her noisy feminist action group, throwing pieces of meat at pompous men who argue against a woman’s right to abortion. Delphine is smitten, but again, Carole has no clue. She lives with Manuel, a radical writer, and seems to be happy.
One of the strengths of Catherine Corsini’s approach is the very direct and open way she shows the rise of feeling between these two women. After Delphine’s first kiss is rebuffed, Carole explains she is not ‘that way’. Nor am I, says Delphine, who takes her by the hand and kisses her so deeply that Carole no longer knows what way she really might be. An intense affair begins, with frank but not forensic depictions of sex. The approach is not like that of Abdel Kechiche in Blue is the Warmest Colour (from 2013).
It’s a film with two distinct halves: Paris, then the countryside. On one side there is freedom and excitement to change the world; on the other, there is duty and family and the solid, implacable needs of the farm, once her father becomes incapacitated by a stroke. Modernism versus tradition, the self or the collective need, love or duty.
The story is partly autobiographical for Corsini (born 1956) who discovered late in life that she could fall in love with a woman. She says it was partly inspired by watching a French documentary calles Les Invisibles from 2012, by Sebastien Lifshitz, in which elderly gay couples, both male and female, talked about their lives in a country that was once much more hostile to homosexuality than now.
The fact that Corsini tells a wider political story, within the context of the developing romance, makes the film much richer. The pull of the rural life is strong for Delphine and not just because of duty. For Carole, the feeling she discovers within herself is stronger than anything she has felt with her partner Manuel (Benjamin Bellecour). It drags her to the farm, where she experiences the physical, rather than the theoretical. Callouses on the hands and secret bedroom hopping at night.
Corsini is a vastly experienced and subtle film-maker. She draws beautiful performances from both women. It’s a film of quiet virtues based on old-fashioned ideas: take time to build the narrative, observe your characters closely, judge not, and go deep with the emotions. A pleasure all round, in fact.
La Belle Saison (Summertime)
film of quiet virtues
It’s a film of quiet virtues based on old-fashioned ideas: take time to build the narrative, observe your characters closely, judge not, and go deep with the emotions. A pleasure all round, in fact.