I first saw this made-for-TV film about five years ago, and I confess that I was rather mesmerised by it. Having seen it again just yesterday, I have to say that I still find it a remarkably fine effort – despite the various reviews of it elsewhere.
The plot is simple. Almost non-existent. There are two teenaged friends. One of them dies after being hit on the head by a goalpost. The other one struggles to cope. That’s basically it. There are various subplots about the family of the dead boy and whether or not the goal post was in some way defective, but these subplots are as inconsequential as the main narrative.
In many respects this is a film that came at the tail end of a cycle of similar french movies about confused teenagers: Presque Rien, Les Roseaux Sauvages, A Toute Vitesse, Le Dernier Jour. And perhaps this is why the film has caused some reviewers to scratch their heads a little. These films all feature homosexual teens as their lead characters or, at least, teens who are sexually confused and that confusion is the driving force behind the narrative. That isn’t the case here. Sure, it appears that Sébastien may have feelings for boys, but that’s never made explicit. It’s hinted at, but nothing more. Apparently, though, the film was shown at LGBT film festivals in the UK (and was picked up by a DVD distributor specialising in LGBT-themed films) and that has caused more confusion within audiences than within the central character himself. I can understand that to a certain degree, but this is where the term “queer” really comes into its own. It may not be a gay-themed film, but it’s certain a queer film.
Anyone who wants to watch this because they think it has gay content will, indeed, be disappointed. But that’s a shame, for Un jour d’été has so much to offer. It is, essentially, an elegy – a cinematic study of mourning and loss, and the effect grief can have on family and friends beyond the obvious. After the funeral, things slowly get back to normal – but, somehow, they are never quite the way they used to be. This is something rarely portrayed in film, a medium where mourning and grief is so often portrayed as lasting a few days and then everything’s hunkydory. Un jour d’été portrays quite the opposite of this in a quiet, plaintive, unassuming way that is both mesmerising and moving without being overly morbid.
Strangely, Baptiste Bertin, who plays the lead in the film has done little movie work since. This is a shame, for he puts in a stunning performance here as the confused, bemused, sometimes troubled teenager at the heart of the “story.” His performance alone is worth looking around for a second-hand copy of the DVD (not as easy as it sounds).
In the end, the film has come into criticism in the past because it refuses to be pigeon-holed. That the boy at the centre of the film is sexually confused and yet that isn’t what he obsesses over day and night seems very hard for some people to understand. Had the “gay” angle been developed more, it would probably have been received better outside France but, at the same time, it would have lost much of its appeal and much of its power. The film is as unassuming as its title, but well worth taking the time to watch.