Summer Things

Preety French laydeez 'aving ze nookie on 'oliday. A haw-hee-haw!

Released in 2002, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 22 Apr 2003 by Craig Eastman
Summer Things image

Racist old me. Had this not been a secret preview screening of an unnamed film at theOneliner's cinema of choice, I would never have given Embrassez qui vous Voudrez a second glance. It is, after all, a largely French production (in association with British and Italian production houses), populated by French people, and set entirely in France. Wah! That I persevered and did not follow suit with a flock of others, who immediately vacated the cinema upon realising they would have to read some subtitles, is a relatively small blessing, as this film has much to recommend it.

Embrassez qui vous Voudrez, or Summer Things as I shall refer to it from here on, concerns the life and loves of a group of friends as they all partake in a little summer getaway. Bertrand Lannier (Jacques Dutronc) is a tired real estate agent whose job brings about as much joy as his marriage to Elizabeth (Charlotte Rampling), a walking designer wardrobe who takes much joy in picking fault with her neighbours' dress sense. Said neighbours, Jerome (Denis Podalydes) and Veronique (Karin Viard), are considerably less well-off than the Lanniers. What Veronique doesn't know is that it's infinitely worse than she thinks, with Jerome having sold their car just to afford a rather less than well-packaged holiday so that his wife might shut up and give him peace for a day or two.

After a dinner party at the Lannier's, it transpires that Elizabeth's choice of holiday destination is the same as Jerome and Vero's, and so she also invites along her friend Julie (Clotilde Courau), a young single mother. After a brief moment of exposition where he gives Julie a good seeing to, if you get my drift, we learn Bertrand is not averse to playing away from home, and will be staying behind to take care of 'business'; in this case it entails having a gay affair with a rather androgynous member of his office staff. In addition to all this, Bertrand's horny 17 year-old daughter is off on a holiday to Chicago with her 'friend', who turns out to be Kevin, one of her father's other workers who happens to be skimming off the books on the sly. So the scene is set for a whimsical look at how the French behave on holiday, and how their lives and those of their fellow holiday-makers will collide and entwine with predictably humorous and sometimes touching results.

Summer Things image

The set-up perhaps raises expectations of a farce, and certainly there is plenty of playing for laughs. Amongst other characters is the handsome Maxime, a thirty-something playboy type who likes to tie his women up to the bedposts and then promptly forget about them for eight hours as he absent-mindedly chases some other holidaying beauty, and the paranoid older husband of a young woman who is convinced his attractive and oppressed other half is having affairs left, right and centre. Throw in Jerome and Vero's son Loic and his romantic troubles with a local rich girl with lesbian tendencies and a host of others and the film begins to take on quite a scale.

Where it defies expectation, however, is in how well the cast and director Michel Blanc keep a reign on things. Despite painting on a fairly complex canvas, the film never seems rushed in it's pacing, yet neither does it's running time outstay the welcome. I have to say I was very impressed by the cast in general, and it's extremely hard to pick out any individual for particular praise. Initial fears of a Gallic rom-com of the type you might expect Hugh Grant to pop up in are mercifully allayed in favour of an altogether more thoughtful observation piece that often borders on melodrama when it's not supplying the laughs. As a result the film has an almost tragic air, suggesting maybe these people should be figures of pity. Is it a meditation on the meaningless existence of modern man? It certainly plays like it at times. I prefer to think of it as an easy-going two hour diversion from the misery of our own lives to draw humour from those of others, and as such it succeeds admirably.

It is, I suppose, indicative of the gulf between our cultures that this film is marketed in France as an out-and-out comedy. The poor bastards; if this is hilarity, how do their lives play out normally? Perhaps a little too sedately paced (although it's hard to imagine how things could have been pushed along more without cocking up the narrative), Summer Things is nonetheless an affecting enough number that asks little of the audience and ultimately delivers much the same. Thanks to a great cast and some tight direction, however, it does prove to be quite fun. I guess coming from me, in relation to something French, that's praise indeed.

Craig Disko saw fit to award this movie 3 out of 5 Sly Disko Winks.

Scott Morris says:- I feel compelled to disagree. I have nothing in particular against the French but this film is an atrocious example of sub-Wildeian farce with none of the wit; none of the intelligence. It seems well acted, although the usual foreign language disclaimer applies, it is difficult in many cases to distinguish a mediocre performance from a good one when you can't understand any of the meanings of the tone and inflection given to the dialogue. What gauls (ho-ho) me is the horrible shallowness of everyone on display here. Every character is either petty and annoying or hopelessly pathetic, making it nigh on impossible to engage with them on any level. By the end of the movie it seems only Elizabeth has any hope of redemption, any worthwhile change in character. Given the source this shift in attitude comes from the film's moral message seems dubious at best. While that may reflect life, life is rarely reflected in this film full of one-dimensional caricatures. Yes, the overly paranoid husband is amusing because his character has been written to such extremes, but it's laughable rather than clever. This film has nothing to say and takes too long to say it.

Michel Blanc
Cast list:
Jacques Dutronc (Bertrand Lannier)
Charlotte Rampling (Elizabeth)
Denis Podalydes (Jerome)
Karin Viard (Veronique)