Summer Things Review

Jérôme (Denis Podalydès) and Véronique (Karin Viard) are in the midst of a marital crisis - money has run out but Véronique hates being seen as a pauper by her rich and affluent friends, Elizabeth (Charlotte Rampling) and Bertrand (Jacques Dutronc). With the compulsory August holidays approaching, Véronique has decided to follow her bourgeois friends to Le Touquet but at the last minute, Bertrand drops out to be replaced by Julie (Clothilde Courau aka Queen of Italy in waiting), Elizabeth's other best friend along with her 6 month old baby. As Julie and Elizabeth are enjoying the plush surroundings of a sea-front hotel, Jérôme and Véronique are trying to appear respectable in their rented mobile home and unreliable Lada.

Urban mythology has it that, as the Inuit people have dozens of words for snow, the French have thousands of words for sex - whether this is true of not, matters little since it fits well with the prevalent stereotype of our Gallic cousins in our little isles. Summer Things - despite being based on the eponymous British novel - will do little to dispel that impression with each character seemingly obsessed about getting their leg over the next, though the baby and the neurotics seem unusually immune to the libidinous air of Le Touquet.

Though most of the action centres around the four main female characters, Blanc adds himself as the excessively jealous husband of Carole Bouquet, along with Lou Doillon as Emilie, the slutty daughter of Liz and Bertrand, allowing him to expand the film's scope slightly. However, Doillon gives Emilie little charm, making her escapades in Chicago seem like an uninteresting diversion in the film's flow (but do add some extra nudity and sex). Blanc is equally annoying as the neurotically jealous husband: his character panders too much to the slapstick tradition to fit in with the film's tone and his introduction seems to be solely aimed at adding some comedy to a film more intent on studying marriage and infidelity rather than neurosis. This uneven mix of genres makes the film stutter at times with the pathos of many scenes lost for the sake of a joke - treating severe depression and sexual humiliation as comedic devices is generally a rather difficult trick to pull off and Blanc doesn't seem to be sufficiently nimble-handed to do so.

Since Molière, the French have built their comedies around misunderstanding, comedy of errors and farce and Summer Things is little different from Francis Veber's heavy-handed but popular comedies (Le Dîner De Cons, La Cage aux Folles...). Despite being a huge success in France, it remains a decent but hardly astonishing effort that manages to pull itself together thanks to the good performances of the lead cast. Rampling, Bouquet, Viard and Courau bounce of each other with ease, making each scene they share flow with ease. Podalydès and Dutronc are also good in their roles but are kept too much in the plot's background to make much of an impact. Blanc seems to have had some trouble finding which characters he should focus on and ends up trying to look at too many of them in too little time leaving the film a little undercooked but not without a certain charm.

The DVD:

The image:
The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and has been given an anamorphic transfer. The image is not as sharp as I expected as well as some amount of colour bleed but this is quite a minimal flaw that many may not notice. The print itself is very clean and shows no noticeable flaws and artifacting is rare. A good but not perfect transfer.

The sound:
Though the film was shown in DTS in France, we only get a stereo mix here. Stereo effects are used throughout and are usually quite noticeable but the dialogue comes mostly through the central speaker. As I haven't seen the film in any other format I can't comment on how it sounded with a full surround sound but this seems ample.

The subtitles:
Annoyingly these have been computer-generated but transferred along with the image meaning you can't turn them off - most people will not be annoyed by this, but for those of us who understand French, it's downright annoying. The translation is globally good but seems quite americanised - and for goodness sake, can someone tell the translator putain does not equate to the F- word!

The extras:
The compulsory trailer is included as well as trailers for some of Fox's releases. We also get quite an interesting featurette made up of shots from the filming along with Blanc talking in a rather downcast fashion about the shooting. This is all subtitled in English and runs for around 10 minutes which is just about as long as it should be. A good enough extra.

Though I didn't really fall in love with the film, there's plenty of redeeming features on offer to make it worthwhile watching. The DVD is decent enough but could have done with a little more in way of extras. The French release has no English subtitles so this seems the way to go unless you speak French.

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out of 10

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