After sitting down with 2004′s My Summer of Love, which somehow rates 91% on RottenTomatoes.com, I couldn’t help ask myself, “how could a maturation film about lesbians go so wrong?” Two answers come to mind: the first is the characters and the second is the aesthetics. Both are fundamental to the film-going experience.
It is likely that the reason we watch film is linked to both our interest in sharing stories, and experiencing the visual. The ability to tell stories was something that evolved to help us understand the world better, and hence better survive. The love of the visual also reflects the social tendencies that enhance our survival, although the extent of a society’s love of the visual may depend on whether it is a literate or oral culture. Still, for this reason, most art and literature has always reflected our interest in human beings.
Yet, as I have seen in so many writers, directors and critics, the majority of courses and books on filmmaking do not start with this at their basis. It’s all about conflict and cool shots they tell people, and as a consequence we end up with films like Somersault and My Summer of Love. The truth is that a great film is not one with lots of quiet sequences with alienated characters and softly spoken dialogue, it is one that integrates aesthetics with honest depictions of human beings.
In terms of character, My Summer of Love fails because, while each of the characters do stand out from one another and have distinct personalities, they fail to generate self-recognition in the audience. This might be because of the acting, but I’m inclined to think it has more to do with the pacing, and subject matter.
Compare My Summer of Love with Brokeback Mountain. In the latter, the love scenes were filled with tension and anxiety and that certain silence that we have understood in our own lives, while the former tends to skip between a variety of scenes where the girls are spending time together and playing and getting close yet fails to give us the experience of how one thing really leads onto another. The folly of the approach used by the film in question is that it offers us little insight or empathy with the characters.
The scenes chosen in the latter were original and unique to the setting, while the scenes in the former — like riding a motorbike, hanging out in the forest and playing pranks — are becoming rather cliché. When human beings act like real human beings, we, the audience, will always be engaged.
Reviewing the aesthetics, one finds the cinematography in My Summer of Love leaving a lot to be desired. With every scene overdressed in colour and a tendency to position the camera in a very ridged fashion, we’re left with the visual equivalent of a writer in love with their words. And this leaves the setting feeling unrealistic and shallow, which creates a further divide between ourselves and the characters.
Compare this with the harsh yet playful cinematography of Bamboozled, where the free camera introduced us to the looseness of the characters and helps give us a clear distinction between the image and the reality, which was a central theme developed throughout.
A good director will give a film an aesthetic that is suited to the subject. Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon is the most classic example, where his specially designed cameras allowed the 18th century storyline to be flattened out like a painting.
In the end, My Summer of Love is as amateurish as a fresh face in a porno. The auteur, Pawel Pawlikowski, seems uncomfortable with his medium and is anxious about being liked. You can tell by the way he uses overt symbols like the crucifix, forces philosophy into the mouths of his characters, handles the rhythm haphazardly, and abstains from leaving us with any insights into ourselves.