My Summer of Love

(Pawel Pawlikowski, UK, 2004)


Pawel Pawlikowski's My Summer of Love is a refreshing film. It begins with the familiar elements of what Pauline Kael once memorably called British miserabilism: a lonely, restless girl, Mona (Nathalie Press), in a gloomy, empty Yorkshire pub, trying to come to terms with the exasperating fact that her once-beloved older brother, Phil (Paddy Considine), has been 'born again'.

But this is no Mike Leigh-style wallow in an inevitable, dead-end situation. Mona encounters Tamsin (Emily Blunt), a more worldly, intellectual teen. Their rapport quickly creates a heady 'world apart' that is interrupted only rarely by Phil's evangelical campaign with the local community (including the hilarious scene of raising a giant crucifix on a hill).

This is a sensual film, not one dourly devoted to a social topic. Lesbianism is never articulated as an issue, and only once does the girls' public show of affection clash with the town's conservative elements. Pawlikowski (Last Resort, 2000) is interested in erotic desire not as a political consciousness-raising matter, but as a force that dissolves fixed identities in an ecstasy of mutual discovery. The actors are up to the task.

This film succeeds where Cate Shortland's Somersault (2004) faltered. Pawlikowski manages to hold us in the thrall of an almost plotless succession of cinematic sensations that are closely keyed to the emotionally-tinged perceptions of the characters. Ryszard Lenczewski's marvellous cinematography remains at all times close to the girls' bodies, jittery and seemingly imprecise – but the effect is lyrical and liberating rather than suffocating. The colour scheme of the film and its use of natural light are intoxicating.

Best of all, Pawlikowski does not betray his material by rushing to some morally loaded, clean plot resolution. He artfully negotiates the liminal challenge of the teen-movie form (do not doubt this genre designation – it's even a Summer Holiday situation!): to stay within the eternal moment of youthful rapture, and to ultimately ease out if it (and into something approximating everyday reality) without short-changing what it meant, or how it felt. On every level, My Summer of Love confidently escapes the kitchen-sink naturalism of much British cinema.

MORE queer cinema: Lie Down With Dogs, Poison, Like It Is

MORE Pawlikowski: Cold War

© Adrian Martin June 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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