Un été brûlant

Dir. Philippe Garrel. France, Italy, Switzerland. 2011.

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Fuzzy Roman moodiness

The presence of many Garrel themes and gestures make this film of interest to devotees of the French auteur. His heyday was in the Sixties and Seventies, but he made a memorable and atmosphereic film with his son Louis in the three-hour black-and-white 2005 Regular Lovers. That made Louis emblematic of 1968, a role designated to him first by Bernardo Bertolucci in his 2003 The Dreamers. After the favorable reception of that flm, the senior Garrel used his son once more as a suicidal poetic type in the attratively photographed but unmemorable black and white film The Frontier of Dawn (2008). This new digital color film is a meandering, badly motivated and clumsily photographed effort. The director is clearly just treading water. A shame for both father and son (and granddad Maurice, who was briefly in Regular Lovers, and has a scene here again). Céline Sallette, who was in the 2005 film, is appealing again here as Élisabeth, the girfriend of best friend Paul, played by TV actor Jérôme Robart. Again the striking-looking Louis, often used by Christophe Honoré (four films and a cameo in a fith), arguably with more success, is cast by his father as a suicidal artistic type, this time a painter.

But the big question is, what are all these French men doing around Monica Bellucci in Rome? And what is Bellucci, who appears overweight and sullen, doing in this picture? If her name was meant to add cachet, the idea backfired.

Other reviewers have pointed out that although the film begins with the car-accident suicide of Frederic (Louis Garrel) -- or was it only an attempted suicide?, there is nothing besides his mopiness and weepiness with his Italian wife (yes, they are supposed to be married, and he's supposed to be a painter, and the paintings are bad enough that the actor might have painted them himlself) to explain why he would want to kill himself. Just general Weltschmerz, perhaps? or a growing awareness that he's not a good painter and his wife isn't faithful? She has a new Regular Lover of her own, someone picked up on the set of the two apparently mediocre films we see little moments of. CineCittà is used as the set.

There are pointless and inexplicable comings and goings, and there is a scare when Élisabeth and Angèle (Bellucci) become hysterical over an unexpected rodent. All these things doubtless have a significance for Garrel, and would be understood by adepts of his work. As a film they are inexplicable and uninvolving and add nothing appreciable to what can be found in Garrel senior's other films.

The tech elements are sloppy. The occasional piano music is too loud and drowns out the dialogue at one point. There are moments when half the screen is out of focus and sometimes the color is hideous. There are a few, but too few, moments of visual beauty, when the people and the locations look great. Sometimes Garrel seems to be transparently feeding off his previous successes, with imperfect success. There is even a dance sequence exactly like the long poetic one in Regular Lovers -- same grouping, movements, gestures. Only then it worked and here it doesn't.

Un été brûlant/A Burning Summer debuted September 2, 2011 at the Venice festival, and opened in Paris September 28 to fair reviews (Allociné 3.2 from 16 press reviews), with the hip Inrockupibles and Cahiers du Cinéma rating highest. The Inrockuptibles' claim that Bellucci is "very moving" and there is "a refined use of color" suggests that critic was on another planet.

Chris Knipp

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Chris Knipp

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