05 October 2009

The Decade List: My Summer of Love (2004)

My Summer of Love – dir. Paweł Pawlikowski

Something about the title My Summer of Love evokes the not-so-distant-past. It’s not a sentence, so there’s no verb tense to indicate such. However, it conjures a memory. “That was the summer where I…” And don’t all those summers occur during the strange and exciting period of “growing up?” Everything about Paweł Pawlikowski’s second feature supports the notion of a moment in time remembered rather than one transpiring in some variation of real time on the screen.

Filmed in lush sun-drenched hues of gold, Ryszard Lenczewski’s cinematography is almost too lovely, and as I said before when comparing the film to Sébastien Lifshitz’s Presque rien, rewatching the film never fully lives up to your recollection of the visuals. In fact, revisiting the film as a whole never really lives up to your first encounter with it, which ironically stands as one of My Summer of Love’s strengths, of which there are many.

The catalysts for this particular summer, which takes place in no specific year as Pawlikowski eliminates all cultural indicators of time, arrive within the first minutes of the film. Mona (the wonderful Natalie Press) lies on the grass, next to her engine-less moped, as Tamsin (Emily Blunt), suspended from her boarding school, rides up to her on a horse. After this initial meeting, where an invitation to hang out is offered by Tamsin, Mona returns to her home, a pub left to her and her brother Phil (Paddy Considine) by their deceased mother, to find Phil emptying the liquor bottles and announcing his conversion to Christianity. The scene that follows shows the final sexual encounter between Mona and the married man (Dean Andrews) she’s having an affair with. Within ten minutes, the slate has been wiped clean, each of the characters (Mona, Tamsin and Phil, that is) given a new beginning.

This quick succession of events would have come across as a crude narrative convenience, but Pawlikowski and co-writer Michael Wynne use this as a clever framing device, bookended naturally with the shattering of the characters’ many illusions. I always seem to return to a quote Roger Ebert made about the film: “This isn't a coming-of-age movie so much as a movie about being of an age.” My Summer of Love isn’t about first-love, sexual maturation or identification. Love really doesn't factor into the film. It’s about the intoxicating possibilities three people, all lost in some form and with seemingly interminable free time, develop with one another, each so immersed in their own fantasy that they fail to notice the harm it inevitably causes the adjacent parties.

With: Natalie Press, Emily Blunt, Paddy Considine, Dean Andrews, Paul Antony-Barber, Lynette Edwards, Kathryn Sumner
Screenplay: Paweł Pawlikowski, Michael Wynne, based on the novel by Helen Cross
Cinematography: Ryszard Lenczewski
Music: Will Gregory, Alison Goldfrapp
Country of Origin: UK
US Distributor: Focus Features

Premiere: 21 August 2004 (Edinburgh Film Festival)
US Premiere: 20 May 2005 (Seattle International Film Festival)

Awards: Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film (BAFTAs); Best European Film (Polish Film Awards)

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