François Ozon: How French Cinema moved me

Dear Readers,

It has been a while since my last post; I had intended to do Top 20 of 2020 TV shows but the post did not spark ideas for me so I have decided to park that post for a while and focus on another topic. I may get back to it for a second post next month. Instead, I am going to talk about two films that I have recently discovered are by the same director and were two of my favourite films of the past few years.

I recently watched Summer of 85, a recent release to streaming services and was so moved by this film. It was sad at points but the film did not leave me emotionally drained at the end. I have seen very few films that deliver such a dramatic and devastating event but within the final act are able to build the viewer back up and let them walk away with a sense of gratitude. I will also be talking about Ozon’s 2018 film, By the Grace of God. It is a long one but I loved every minute and I remember saying at the end that I needed more of the film despite it being two and a half hours. I sometimes struggle to stay focused on a long film, especially ones with subtitles but this film captured maintained my attention the whole way through.

Summer of 85 – Original Title – Été 85

This film centres around Alexis and his relationships in the summer of 1985 in Normandy, France. He has moved to the idyllic seaside town only two years before so has not made any meaningful friendships. He borrows an acquaintance’s boat and after capsizing is rescued by David, a town native. From there, a whirlwind friendship, relationship and anything else in-between occurs. They make death pacts, reveal their deepest secrets and spend every minute together. A British au pair, Kate complicates matters and Alexis’ summer of love becomes a summer of death. The story is told in a flashback fashion where the narrator has written about the events and is recounting them. This is interspersed with the present and what Alexis’ life is like while writing the story. This is an interesting narrative technique that played well with the story. I will not say much more about the plot as a major detail is given away at the beginning and this played into my view of the film.

The two actors who play Alexis and David have brilliant chemistry and every scene with just the two of them is like watching friends or relatives you know. They have such vivid emotions and whether they are angry, sad, happy or otherwise; as a viewer you can connect with their characters. Félix Lefebvre who is Alexis plays a magnificent part for a young actor. He is the link between the past and present and we see the world through his eyes. Whenever he is on screen, you experience events through his emotions and feel what he wants you to feel. Benjamin Voisin who plays David has an energy about him that instantly makes you want to be around him. He certainly has this effect of many characters in the film. Through Alexis, we see his beauty and eventually his darkness. Philippine Velge is a great supporting actor as Kate with a near perfect British accent. She can also speak French with a British accent which makes me think she was raised in Britain. Her role becomes pivotal to the plot and even though she is not French, she becomes part of the community for Alexis.

François Ozon has made this film into a visual masterpiece. The plot of the film does not have many big twists or dramatic moments but with his direction, you feel as though this tiny French fishing town is the centre of the universe and all that really matters. The emotions of the characters go from big to small and are only present in front of certain other characters which was a good decision. It lets the characters preserve their feelings and allows the build up to crescendos which did not always end well for them. The locations used are all picturesque and fit into ideas of life in France at the time. There are strong and bold colours without crazy patterns to distract the eye. The fashion is all time-accurate with lots of double denim and block designs. The music used also contributed to the tone and emotions of the film. His writing, while macabre at times never tipped into depressive or gory but toed the line of acceptable for a death-obsessed teenager to say. His choice to focus on Alexis and let the audience be one step ahead of him was a great way to tell the story.

I loved this film, even though there were sad moments. By learning of the big event at the start, I felt prepared as a viewer. The final act after this event was useful to repair the sad emotions I experienced, so walking away from the film, I felt hopeful and not depressed. This is a technique I have not seen used very often. Many films with a devastating ending, usually leave the viewer with those emotions but Summer of 85 left me with a better outlook. This is a film I would love to live in and experience for myself as the 1980s is a well documented era but most films I have seen set in this time period are based in America or England and not Europe. The subtitles did not distract from the quality of the film and if anything, it helped me to focus more on every word said rather than looking at my phone at the same time.

I give this film 10/10.

By the Grace of God – Original Title – Grâce à Dieu

By The Grace of God tells a tale that had unfortunately become more and more prevalent in the last decade but it does so in such a way that enables the viewer to feel optimistic about the victims going forward. It depicts how the victims of a Catholic priest find each other in their 40s after being sexually abused as young boys. They form a website to spread awareness and raise funds to prosecute the priest. It is based on a true story but rather than a harrowing tale, it represents fighting back and how to overcome your abuser. The film is told from the point of view of a victim who is now a businessman with children. He has lived with this childhood trauma but finally decides to do something about it. Many of the men in the film have managed to suppress or deal with what happened to them and form attachments with friends and partners but for a few men it has not been as simple. Just talking about what they went through leads to the men questioning their own relationships and lives.

The cast themselves were amazing in their portrayals and embodied the stories of the real men that went through the trauma as children. The man who played the priest did a great job at making the viewer comfortable in his presence despite his horrific crimes. It shows how the boys aged around 8 to 10 years old were happy to be in his presence. Many of them said nothing to their parents at the time, either too ashamed or not fully understanding what had happened.

When watching, I did not realise that François Ozon was the director but I was hooked to the film. It is not really a film to be enjoyed but one to learn from. The way the website and the community of the men and their families comes together was told in a way that eased the viewer into this story and helped them build up an attachment to the group and what they want to achieve. Not that anyone would side with the priest but at first, he denies the allegations and you will the men to find more evidence and support them on their quest for justice. Nothing explicit is ever shown but enough is insinuated with flashbacks to make you understand what was happening. The mind is very suggestible and even a hint of maliciousness can help you fill in the blanks. Religion played an important role in the film and many of the men struggled with how they saw religion after their experiences. Some had walked away from the church and some still went with their families, blocking out the connotations.

At the time of viewing, I was very moved by the film. Although, I think to properly describe my feelings, I would have to re-watch it. I will say that it was a very powerful and necessary story that left me wondering why it took so long to convict this criminal. Again, the subtitles did not detract from the story. I saw this film at the back of a cinema and I was able to hang on every word. Some films are so strong that language is not a barrier when conveying its message.

I give this film 10/10 but I would want to re-watch to confirm this rating.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

About indie-film-fanatic00

Film Student at Oxford Brookes
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