The 56th Chicago International Film Festival has begun and has a wonderful selection of films available nationwide for the first time. Due to the pandemic, the festival opted for the streaming route, making the event accessible to audiences who may not normally get to attend the festival. They also are offering select drive-in screenings at venues in the city. Staff writer Emily Jacobson’s first viewings at this year’s CIFF were similar in content and fit together perfectly: Summer of 85 and Spring Blossom both center around young love, exploring the extreme highs and lows that accompany it while dealing with difficult themes.
France’s Summer of 85 from director François Ozon has a poster that gives off bright, summery vibes that heavily contrast its opening scene. Alex (Félix Lefebvre) narrates the opening, telling us about a corpse, and how it came to be a corpse. Immediately, Summer of 85 warns you that what you are about to see will not end well. Alex begins telling his story, flashing back to the summer, where there are the expected vibrant colors and sense of freedom. However, there is a foreboding sense of dread instilled in each frame because of Alex’s haunting words as you wait to discover what tragic event took place.
After Alex befriends David (Benjamin Voisin), a handsome boy in town who works at a shop with his mother, Ozon’s drama plays out like a typical summer romance. With immediate chemistry between Voisin and Lefebvre, it isn’t hard to fall for the on-screen connection. The characters slip into their entanglement with stolen moments and passionate conversation. The contrast in tone between the summertime flashbacks against the present narration in which Alex is recounting a supposed tragedy differentiates Summer of 85 from otherwise similar films.
The committed lead performances carry the narrative; they are wonderful to watch, especially Lefebvre. He plays Alex’s romanticism genuinely, never pushing the emotions of his teenage character too far. Alex is an emotional person, and fascinated with death and falling in love at the same time, which provides for an interesting balance of ideas. Hearing the story from Alex’s perspective in the present offers a lens to consider how we look back on our memories: do we romanticize moments without meaning to, adding more meaning than originally was there? These questions are what make Summer of 85 not just a fine romance but an insightful discussion of memory and death.
Spring Blossom is not quite the same. Though it dealt with similar themes — coming into your own while also experiencing all of those emotions that come with first love — Suzanne Lindon, who is only twenty years old, wrote, directed, and starred. An impressive feat, especially for such a cohesive story that perfectly articulates the way being a sixteen-year-old feels.
Suzanne (Lindon), is bored. She cannot connect with the people around her and searches for something more, uninterested in her adolescent life. She finds what she is yearning for in an older man, Raphael (Arnaud Valois), with who she becomes infatuated. The two begin a sort of relationship, and Suzanne experiences the extreme emotions of first love. In doing so, she also begins to realize what she wants out of life as well as what she may be missing.
There are moments crafted to put you in Suzanne’s mindset, which is successful each time. The interactions between Suzanne and Raphael are also interesting in how they are built upon mutual respect, and less so out of sexual desire. This allows Spring Blossom to focus on Suzanne’s personal growth without sensationalizing the relationship between her and Raphael. That said, there might have been added value if Lindon addressed their age difference more directly.
Summer of 85 is a balanced blend of romance and tragedy, wrapped up in a concisely-structured plot with wonderful performances, and Spring Blossom promises new talent in Lindon, who intelligently explores the isolation and discovery of being a teenager. They would be easy to recommend as a double feature further down the road when they’re widely released (hopefully). For now, they are streaming online until October 25th.