“Été 85” review: Love Told Through Honest Conflict


Courtesy of Film Quarterly

Kal Lizana, Contributing Writer

When we tell stories of love, we often forget the complexities that come with it. Love is not simply the happy ending or even the romantic relationship between people. Rather, love is a story composed of anger and sadness, just as much as it is intimacy and desire. And if we forget one of these elements, are we really telling a story of love?

Adapted from the novel “Dance On My Grave” by Aidan Chambers and Jean-Pierre Carasso, and serving as the 19th feature from French filmmaker François Ozon, “Été 85” or “Summer of 85”, illustrates the love of two polarizing teenagers. After capsizing a small boat borrowed from a friend, innocent Alexis is dramatically rescued by the slightly older calypso named David, sparking passion and intimacy between the two. Alexis and David soon share a relationship, and as we learn from the first five minutes of the film, Alexis will also share a role in David’s death.

There is certainly something interesting about their individual characters, but more potent is the study of their relationship as a character in itself. That character’s persona is one inhabited by both honesty and confusion, desire and misfortune, as well as love and hate. Such complex emotions come from their most honest conversations in which Alexis seeks to understand David, and, even after being given an honest response, Alexis is still pained with both hatred and desire for David. We see then that this relationship is one that cannot be healed through honesty, but only through grief.

Ironic enough, the filmmakers keep us trapped in all the honest dialogue and performances in the film. Cinematographer Hichame Alaouié took use of mirrors and wider framing to ensure we see every reaction and read the lips of as many lines as we can. Laure Gardette continued this through her editing choices by allowing us, the audience, to experience moments for as long as we can without breaking focus to a different viewpoint. Through the entire film, we are visually guided to witness every possible honest word spoken and emotion felt by Alexis and David. However, it is not until Alexis begins to grieve that we truly comprehend the emotions between the two.

And sure, some of the lines and acts of the characters are certain to be overly-dreamt and peak on the expectation of what is real to our typical experiences, but they still prove to us the overwhelming effect our heightened-emotions can actuate. We see this through the development of their relationship, and even more specifically the development of Alexis as he even begins to allow himself to be called Alex and alter his clothing style to the liking of David. This might seem bizarre and overdone to most, but in the view of a love-obsessed teenager, it makes perfect sense. The film is told through Alexis’s perspective after all.

What is so heart-wrenching about the story of Alexis and David has nothing to do with its beginning or its ending. All of its wonders and beauty manifest in the absurd, theatrical behavior between the two young adolescents.

At the climax of their relationship, David asks Alexis to make an oath with him: “whoever dies first, the other promises… to dance on his grave.” At first, one might be startled and at the least confused as to why David is asking this of Alexis. But in the end, when he must keep his promise, we realize that we might desire the same grief Alexis feels for David and the same transformation Alexis has by falling in love with him.


“Été 85” is now available on Showtime and Paramount Plus.

Illustration by Ariel Landry