Monday, 16 October 2006

My Summer of Love (2004)

This could easily be Mona’s summer of hell. The teen is stuck in a tiny backwater village where the only likely way her life will develop would be to find a job at an abattoir, get married to an ass, churn out 10 children, and look forward to menopause, cancer, or suicide – whichever will do her in first. Her 30-something boyfriend just dumped her, she’s not quite over her mother’s death, and her ex-con brother Phil’s just discovered Jesus and has converted the family pub (converted, as in poured away the entire wine selection into the sink) into a place of worship for some freeloading evangelical/charismatic/Pentecostal crazies who might as well be charming snakes in their speak-in-tongue sessions. And by the way, he’s building a horrifically huge and tasteless iron and wood cross to plant on the top of the local hill in order to rededicate the town to God and drive Satan out of the valley. Needless to say, he tops it off with a grand scheme to convert Mona to the light as well.

I’d shoot myself already if I were in her situation, but Mona has a chance encounter with Tamsin, recently suspended from public school. Tamsin literally comes riding in on a white horse. The two set eyes on each other, get to bond over their existential loneliness and dysfunctional families, leading to a magical summer for both. However, don’t be fooled into thinking this is another Imagine Me and You, a daft lesbiansploitation romantic comedy where the protagonists fall in love at first sight and live out a typical romantic comedy plot no different from your brain-dead heterosexual romantic comedy of the week.

My Summer of Love is about the giddy process of friendship, between bemused interest, bonding over cigarettes, playing pranks on the locals, and identifying with each other. There are some issues to be ironed out first, of course. Tamsin considers the backwater village to be an ideal spot for a vacation home, and wishes to introduce Mona to the joys of Nietzsche and Edith Piaf. She lives in a manor on top of a hill, complete with her own tennis court and a white horse, while Mona lives upstairs at the pub and sort of wheels around a motorcycle missing an engine. That’s a real and tangible gap between the girls that the movie has to negotiate, and Pawlikowski does it in a convincing and emotionally true manner as well.

Much like Christopher Doyle’s cinematography, the budding friendship and eventual courtship of the girls is lit by dreamy visuals choreographed by unearthly light and filters. Together with an excellent choice of soundtracks, My Summer of Love is a heady and experiential film, so beautiful that when the real world comes crashing in on Mona and Tamsin, you’ll be as heartbroken as they are, and yet still live to treasure this teenage memory with a smile days after.

First published at incinemas on 19 October 2006

No comments: