An amiable country bumpkin narrates the story of how he lost his heart, amid the sultry sizzle of le sud de la France (37 ° 2 in the morning, indeed), to an enigmatic sex bomb who’s slowly losing her mind, her hidden dark side plunging his life and those of his nearest and dearest into turbulence and ultimately calamity…
Sounds familiar to anybody? Cineastes and / or lechers of a certain age will always recall the erotic impact of Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Betty Blue (1986) but those of a slightly more leathery and lecherous vintage might well recognise that the above synopsis could be applied, equally appropriately, to Jean Becker’s L’été Meurtrier / One Deadly Summer, released three years earlier.
Becker’s film is the more substantial effort. Beneix’s was equal parts melancholy and whimsy, as Beatrice Dalle’s Betty spiralled towards a decline that was never actually explained, if not necessarily inexplicable. The motivation of Isabelle Adjani’s tormented tormentor “Elle” (an interesting designation for this character, duly noted and subsequently transposed to French cinema’s other great Isabelle by Paul Verhoeven) is revealed early and pursued relentlessly. This is a thriller, indeed a rape / revenge saga, though not the kind you’re ever going to find on any “nasties” list.
Alain Souchon is engaging as the besotted Pin-Pon (he’s got a brother named Boubou so maybe he’s smarter than the average bear), in fact the entire ensemble (including a brief appearance by the much missed Edith Scob from Eyes Without A Face) perform admirably… Becker compellingly directs a clever screenplay adapted by “Sébastien Japrisot” from his own novel… the film is beautifully shot by the director’s brother Étienne (and CultFilms’ sumptuous BD transfer finally does it justice, after the unsatisfactory DVD released by their predecessors Nouveaux)…
… for all this, the overwhelming impression left by L’été Meurtrier is that of Adjani’s superhuman physical beauty. More Botticelli’s Venus meets Betty Boop-made-flesh than Beatrice Dalle’s buxom, buck-toothed Betty Blue (and those are only the ‘B’ words!), the vision of her Elle (a role that nearly went to Valérie Kaprisky, when Adjani briefly got cold feet about all those nude scenes) is devastating, ineradicable.
Is it somehow improper to talk in such terms of a character seeking redress for crimes of toxic masculinity? Elle is willing (I wouldn’t say she’s ever exactly happy) to deploy all the tools in her physical armoury to achieve her aim, casually remarking to a check out girl that “this arse” and her Rain Man skills of calculation are the only things that God gifted her. Of course (and here comes the semi-spoiler) her calculations re the identity of her quarry are flawed and as well as enhancing the film’s generic credentials as a thriller / whodunnit, it’s these mutual misunderstandings on each side in the battle of the sexes that lead to the ultimate calamity in this story and more generally. As such, L’été Meurtrier testifes to an analysis infinitely more subtle than that which currently passes for debate in the forums of #MeToo and #TimesUp.
As previously mentioned, CultFilms’ transfer looks just ravishing, banishing the memory of previous clumsy framings. Extras comprise a half-hour interview with director Becker and a three quarter-hour featurette including reminiscences from literary associates of the elusive “Sebastien Japrisot” (= Jean-Baptiste Rossi)… “the Graham Greene of France”.
Hard to see why anybody wouldn’t want a copy of this modern classic on their shelf.