One Deadly Summer Review
Acting as something of a prototype for the slew of erotic thrillers that engulfed Hollywood in the late 80s/ early 90s, One Deadly Summer is a sexually charged, intermittently intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying film that frequently veers annoyingly close to self-satisfied tedium.
Elle (Isabelle Adjani) and her family are new arrivals to the languidly hazy small town that Pin-Pon (Alain Souchon) inhabits. She’s quick to catch the eye of more than a few of the male locals, who overtly ogle her attractive physique that the diaphanous clothing she wears does little to hide. Despite her general haughtiness towards him and her reputation for promiscuity Pin-Pon is soon smitten; eventually managing to begin a fruitful relationship with her that seems destined to culminate in a happy marriage. However Pin-Pon is blissfully ignorant of the fact that Elle’s motives are highly duplicitous: she is secretly hell-bent upon enacting revenge against the group of men – one of whom was Pin-Pon’s now deceased father - who raped her mother twenty years ago.
It might be worth noting that those anticipating a depraved I spit on your grave gore-fest would do well to look elsewhere – if anything One Deadly Summer is reminiscent of Rashomon in regards to its narrative, which like Kurosawa’s masterpiece switches between the main characters so that we can hear, via their internal monologues, their perception of events. Jean Becker’s direction is serviceable but rarely much more, his use of the picturesque French countryside is moderately attractive but hardly innovative, though his handling of the rape sequence (as shown in flashback) is masterfully stomach-churning and exceptionally difficult to watch. Indeed, though I expected a fairly sizeable sex/nudity quotient (this is a French film after all) I was surprised that it was feasible for a film made over twenty years ago to embrace such a broad gamut of taboo subjects, taboos that even films today are understandably reluctant to depict.
Though One Deadly Summer boasts a large cast of accomplished actors – all of whom do well with what they’re given – the film truly belongs to Adjani. Brazenly sashaying around a village populated by rather staid and uptight country-folk, she commands attention from the moment she appears on screen. What’s more, she is required to effortlessly oscillate between Elle’s multiple personas having to portray her, as the scene necessitates, as a wanton seductress, a churlish brat, a conniving manipulator and a vulnerable innocent. Needless to say Adjani manages this, delivering a performance of finesse and conviction, providing the movie with its greatest strength but also, ironically, perhaps its key flaw. Adjani was poised to become a veritable acting sensation when One Deadly Summer was made, having garnered her first French Céasar for Possession a year or so earlier, and One Deadly Summer often feels as though it was conceived more as a showcase for Adjani’s talents than as a genuine piece of filmmaking, with the rest of the cast and even the plot being little more than collateral. Add to that a meandering final twenty minutes and a ludicrously inconclusive ending and one is left with an interesting albeit not wholly successful film.
One word: disaster. It’s not often that the most charitable thing one can say about a DVD is that it has moderately good packaging, but this is one of those few unfortunate examples.
Picture: Dire. The transfer is blatantly taken from the VHS edition and is cropped to 4:3. This in itself might be just about tolerable were it not for one crucial issue, namely print damage. Yes, the picture is not only smeary but also riddled with print damage that is prevalent for the entire duration of the film. The gorgeous sunset vistas and lush cinematography deserve much better than this.
Sound: Usually this isn’t of much concern to me, so long as the sound is audible and has good clarity. Thanks to its VHS origins however, the sound is flat and dull and is also the victim of print damage, as the sound sporadically crackles loudly.
Subtitles: Unfortunately not only are they burnt in, but their quality is notably erratic; sometimes missing large chunks of dialogue or making some truly odd mistranslations, for example ‘Are you angry’ which strangely is translated as ‘Are you hungry’.
Extras: A stills gallery of 10 images that you are unlikely to watch more than once and 23 chapters stops.
Had this been a budget disc the abysmal DVD quality would perhaps have not been such a shock, but the fact that Nouveaux Pictures demand an exorbitant £15.99 for it is a complete farce. The film may not achieve all its aims but it’s still an engaging French thriller and for Isabelle Adjani aficionados like myself it’s certainly worth seeing – but I’d recommend you attempt to find it on special offer as the disc is nowhere near worth the full price.