Summertime in a Small Town: Nowhere Girls in an Idle Idyll

Last Resort, Pawel Pawlikowski's previous film, was a pitch-perfect, post-Loachian portrait of refugee idleness in the lowlands of Kent, so astutely naturalistic it's hard to believe that it wasn't shot from behind a two-way mirror. My Summer of Love is something else entirely—but what? At first blush, the Euro-indie moves are there: working-class Brit grit, unprettified (yet lovely) landscape, inarticulate characters fighting for connection. In fact, you could mistake it for the off-center, grim-light realism of Lynne Ramsay. Pawlikowski's heroine, Mona (Natalie Press), is a nasal, crude, off-putting creature, trapped in a small town and a defunct pub with her older brother (Paddy Considine), who has found Christ. The prospects seem dire.

Slyly bearing an antiquated romance mag title and a witty score that evokes more than three genres of '60s cinema (including French Euro-horror), My Summer of Love slowly evolves into an oddly affecting mood piece about lost girl–ness, the ethereal gist of which is all that was reportedly salvaged from Helen Cross's busy source novel. At the outset, Mona meets the impossibly beautiful Tamsin (Emily Blunt): one of them dirt-poor, uneducated, and hustling an engineless motorbike down the Yorkshire roads, the other high on a thoroughbred, cynical, and given to expounding the virtues of Nietzsche and Edith Piaf. Press could pass for a malnutrition-disfigured Sissy Spacek in her teen years, and insofar as Blunt plays a willowy, sophisticated brunette, the film's layout suggests a revisiting of Robert Altman's Three Women. But nothing so schematic is in play. These two glum and wandering souls both nurse lonely wounds, and despite having very little else to talk about, bond at the hip, camp out in Tamsin's ivy-covered mansion, smoke a lot, and eventually have sex. When will the world come knocking?

It's a simple film, but not so elementary. Pawlikowski keeps the girls prickly and unforthcoming, and their courtship chat is unconvincing—they're acting for each other, and exactly how deeply the acting goes becomes the film's primary ponderable. For all the intimate visuals, the narrative textures aren't believable so much as iconic, striving toward a kind of pure cinema—a swoonable battery of gestures and images. Removed for most of the film from the possibility of dramatic context, the girls are abstracted down to hair and hoop earrings fluttering in the breeze, a brooding sisterhood of cigs, booze, and lazy fantasies of social rebellion.

Love us tonight: Press and Blunt
photo: Susan Allnut
Love us tonight: Press and Blunt

Details

My Summer of Love
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Focus, opens June 17

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    The plot arrives, after a fashion, in the form of the brother's fragile evangelism, but not soon enough to shake the sense of My Summer of Love's dreamy emptiness—a dicey affect that corresponds not only to Pawlikowski's depiction of born-again Christianity but to his heroines' self-delusional child's play. A giant crucifix is erected on a hilltop by the town's small band of Jesus lovers, but its looming presence signifies only hollow intent.

    Pawlikowski is aware enough of social differentiation to not bludgeon us with it, and only in My Summer of Love's final act does the submerged class warfare rise to the surface. But the movie creates a hermetic world; fittingly, real life has a difficult time puncturing its bubble. What's evident is that while first-timer Press inhabits her awkward nowhere girl ably enough, Blunt, who's done Brit TV, is already a star—opalescently gorgeous, half-lidded, and so dry in her deliveries she sounds innately contemptuous of everyone and everything. Her presence—particularly in one drowsy, defiant glance toward Considine, as Tamsin suns topless on a hillside—makes Pawlikowski's film hum with desire for the ideal.

     
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