A Burning Hot Summer
"A Burning Hot Summer" sizzles with potential but ends up mostly tepid. The so-good-at-being-sullen, Louis Garrel plays Frederic, a privileged painter who is surprisingly insipid given his profession. Perhaps his existence is just too easy; bourgeois languor is not necessarily conducive to creativity. And maybe that’s where his actress wife, Angele (Monica Belluci) comes in handy. She’s a fidelity-spurning (in theory, he is, too) beauty that is pleasing to behold but difficult to hold. One couldn’t be blamed for feeling the emotional torment that she provides him is a needed texture to his life.
This is a film about two couples, slightly intertwined and playing off each other. The less glamorous of the couples, Paul (Jerome Robart) and Elisabeth (Celine Sallette), may be a bit more homely and less privileged than the other couple, who put them up in Rome, but their problems are comparably lackluster. The two meet on the set of a period drama in which they both have bit parts, and concise voiceover indicates that it’s a case of instant attraction. We don’t really see courtship; we see a toothsome young couple well on their way to commitment row, presumably attracted by something more than appearances.
One scene between them may be seen as a harbinger for future discord: languishing in bed, Paul comments that he could do nothing forever, to which Elisabeth responds that it won’t pay the bills, then goes on to say that she wouldn’t be with him if he had no money (though she’s not hard to please; his day actor’s salary is enough for her). Paul is more of a dreamer, and Elisabeth is more of a pragmatist- quite an ancient tension; yet, this precisely isn’t what causes strife for them down the line. Both characters seem quite innocuous (notwithstanding Elisabeth’s nasty capacity for jealousy) and rather devoid of individuality.
With the four co-habiting, there is ample opportunity for dramatic intrigue, yet most of the dramatic events that play out are too trite to be engaging. Infidelity, jealousy, and insecurity have been resonant on film countless times and will continue to be, but here these moments simply seem sketched, stock moments that arise out of nothing. Competent acting and soaring cinematography can’t change that.
Monica Belucci and Louis Garrel both bring charisma to the screen without having to do much, but there isn’t that much on the page. Belucci’s Angele, the perennially dissatisfied socialite, is probably the most engaging character. But the most rewarding aspect of this film is the mise en scene. At one point, Frederic comments that he shouldn’t have moved to Rome because all the dead beauty fails to inspire him. Like Rome as he perceives it, this film is rife with classical beauty but lacking in freshness. Of course, this conclusion is a result of high expectations.
This is still a sophisticated French film with the political interjections (to be Revolutionary, to spurn, or to simply pose fashionably as a Revolutionary?) and amusing disillusionment between the masculine and feminine that one finds in New Wave films.
"A Burning Hot Summer" opens July 20 at the San Francisco Film Society theater.