TIFF 2011: THAT SUMMER Review

     September 16, 2011

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As TIFF 2011 winds down and festival fatigue sets in, you don’t want to start your day with an awful film.  I can’t blame Philippe Garrel’s That Summer for my schedule or how tired I am.  However, I can blame it for attempted murder as it tried to bore me to death with annoying characters, empty drama, and thoughtless direction.  Then it threw on a big dollop of misogyny just to make me hate it even more.

The first five minutes of Sleepless Night are promising.  You can’t go wrong  by opening on a lingering shot of Monica Bellucci seductively lying naked on a bed.  The shot is followed by a brief scene of Frédéric (Louis Garrel) trying to commit suicide by ramming his car into a tree.  Sleepless Night then goes back in time and Paul (Jérôme Robart), a movie extra and our narrator, tells us how he met his girlfriend and fellow actor Elisabeth (Céline Sallette), Frédéric, and Frédéric’s wife Angèle (Monica Bellucci).  The two couples spend time at Frédéric’s home in Rome and as we witness their uninteresting, angst-filled relationships, we begin to wonder how time has stopped and if this odd phenomenon can be used for the good of science and mankind.

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For a couple of brief moments, That Summer looks like it will be worth something.  There’s the aforementioned opening and then after about forty minutes, we get some hints that Paul wants Frédéric’s life.  Frédéric tells Paul, “Friendship isn’t love.  It’s something else,” and how the friends aren’t together but “side-by-side.”  Not long after, we have scene of Elisabeth wearing one of Angèle’s dresses.  There’s the vaguest hope that maybe this is an interesting French spin on Single White Female.  But it’s not.  At best, you’re seeing how the two relationships mirror each other because both couples are miserable, overgrown teenagers.

I was even willing to forgive an overly-long dance scene between Angèle and a random guy at a party because the scene was from Frédéric’s perspective and we understand that, for him, any dance between Angèle and another man is too long.  He then proceeds to call her a whore.  In the next scene, Angèle tells Elisabeth that Frédéric slept with hookers but became furious when he found out that Angèle had cheated on him after discovering of his infidelity.  Frédéric’s argument is that sleeping with hookers doesn’t mean anything and that men need to cheat.  He’s possessive, he’s jealous, and the movie sympathizes with him.  For a brief window of time, it looks like it also feels sympathy towards Angèle, but the last time we see her she’s acting like a diva.

Elisabeth doesn’t fare any better.  She’s needy, insecure, and constantly picks fights with Paul because she feels he doesn’t show her enough love.  She wants to be married, she wants kids, and she’s only happy when she gets both.  For Garrel, women are either whores who cause men to kill themselves or they know their place in the kitchen.

I would say That Summer looks like a parody of a modern French drama, but parodies are usually somewhat clever and funny.  In a 95 minute movie that centers on people who are supposedly friends and in love, there’s about 30 seconds of smiling.  The closest the film ever gets to amusement is the laughably terrible score that sounds like something out of a prescription drug commercial.  If Ambien and its side effects were mentioned, That Summer would at least have a purpose beyond boring its audience to tears and insulting women.

Rating: F

For all of our coverage of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, click here. Also, here are links to all of my TIFF 2011 reviews so far:

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