My Summer of Love
UK, 2004. Rated R. 86 minutes.
Nathalie Press, Emily Blunt, Paddy Considine, Dean Andrews, Paul Antony-Barber, Lynette Edwards, Kathryn Sumner
|Grade: A-||Review by Carlo Cavagna|
here is something vaguely unsettling about My Summer of Love that has nothing to do with the story, a psychological tale of obsession between two teenage girls from opposite sides of the tracks. It stems from the movie's lack of identifiable time and place. The story is set in Yorkshire, and the accents back that up, but it's steaming hot in this desolate, almost otherworldly place, unaffected by the advances of the digital age. Director Pawel Pavlikovsky (The Last Resort) wanted to emphasize the story's elemental, timeless qualities, and indeed both story and atmosphere recall Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures and Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock, both period movies set in far-flung British colonies, more than they do modern Britain.
In this heat, two girls cross paths—upper-crust Tasmin (Emily Blunt) atop her horse and lower-class Mona (Nathalie Press) on her motor-less motorbike. They look different; they speak different, but immediately there is a connection. Though it's boredom and loneliness that brings them together at first, these feelings grow into romantic desire. Mona needs something—anything—to give meaning to the dead-end life splayed out before her. She aspires to work in an abattoir, churn out kids with a bastard of a man, and wait for menopause—or perhaps cancer, like her dead mother. She's joking, but it's no joke.
Mona (Nathalie Press) and Tasmin (Emily Blunt) atop Mona's motorbike in My Summer of Love.
What Tasmin needs is less clear. She misses her sister, hates men (especially her philandering father), and has a weakness for both grandiose posturing and stirring up trouble. Pavlikovsky subtly employs cinematography and visual imagery to enrich his sparse script—more is said in the silences than the dialogue—creating an enigma out of Tasmin's motives. Tasmin's intense interest in Mona becomes deeply troubling.
Pavlikovsky's instincts as a screenwriter are slightly less reliable. He brings down his wonderful film slightly with his choice of a subplot—the conversion of Mona's brother Phil (Paddy Considine of In America) to born-again Christianity, and his efforts to “save” his sister (an invention by the director; it was not part of Helen Cross's novel). It seems a shame to use born-again Christianity to construct an external obstacle between Mona and Tasmin when their romance is intrinsically rife with possibilities for conflict. The very idea of a born-again antagonist is banal.
On the other hand, in this peculiar, changeless place it does seem right that religion should be a force. Considine plays Phil with a fervor and a humanity that draws out the parallels between his yearnings and those of his sister, who deeply misses the “old Phil.” Both are lost and seeking something more out of life. The scenes of laying-on-hands rituals and Phil welding a gigantic cross together out of sheet metal, in order to claim the valley for Jesus, contribute to Pavlikovsky's gothic atmosphere of enduring strangeness.
Teenage love is by its nature ephemeral, but it never seems that way to the teens—that's the driving force of the story, not Phil's need to control his sister's behavior. The end of act two (the so-called “low point” of the Mona's character arc) is a predictable outcome of the collision course between Tasmin and Phil, but what leads up to it and what comes after is a remarkable film. The British Academy agreed, awarding My Summer of Love the prize for Best British Film at the 2005 BAFTAs.
© July 2005 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
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