Director François Ozon (8 Women, Swimming Pool) adapts a French young adult novel (Aiden Chambers’ Dance on My Grave) about a sixteen-year-old boy who falls in love with a slightly older boy who rescues him when his sailboat capsizes off the shores of Normandy in summer, 1985. Summer of 85 begins by warning us that the older boy will be dead by tale’s end, but that doesn’t stymy the film’s idyllic ‘young love’ angle from taking flight. Lead actors Félix Lefebvre and Benjamin Voisin are talented and beautiful. The happier first half of the film is full of them sailing, dancing, and having fun in coastal France — just what you’d expect in a fun gay love story.
Unfortunately, romance alone is rarely enough to sustain a love story. Summer of 85 takes a cue from straight counterparts like Summer of ’42 and Love Story, mixing death and deception into its mix with a cruel plot twist that makes the second half of the film puzzling, unfocused, and unsatisfying. I’m all for stories about the loss of innocence, but I’m not sure many people (thankfully) will ever relate to it the way it happens here. There is however, a provocative notion thrown away near the end of the film, as a female friend (Philippine Velge) tries to comfort Lefebvre’s character, sad and angry over the way his relationship with Voisin’s character ends. She suggests that maybe Voisin wasn’t who Lefebvre thought he was — that maybe we add to the character of those we love, that we create them in our heads. This is a provocative idea I wish the film explored more directly.