July 08, 2005

My Summer of Love

Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski Starring Natalie Press, Emily Blunt and Paddy Considine

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Unquestionably the most exciting new talent to emerge from the British filmmaking scene is Polish-born Pawel Pawlikowski. Along with Shane Meadows, he is an extremely worthy torchbearer for England's national cinema of social realism. With a background in documentaries and a preoccupation with working-class themes, Pawlikowski's films definitely invite comparisons to Mike Leigh's and Ken Loach's docudramas. But Pawlikowski also has something in common with contemporaries like Danny Boyle: he's not a naturalist. His dazzling 2000 breakthrough Last Resort and latest film My Summer of Love both curiously blend Brit grit with a fable-like quality to intoxicating effect.

Not quite literally an adaptation of Helen Cross's densely constructed novel of the same name, My Summer of Love basically pares the story down to the CliffsNotes essential relationship between lasses Mona (Natalie Press) and Tamsin (Emily Blunt). The poor, bereaved and uneducated Mona rides an engineless motor scooter, shags a married man and lives in a defunct pub that her born-again ex-con brother Phil (Paddy Considine of In America) is converting into a temple. Suspended boarding-school attendee Tamsin rides a white horse, lives in a huge mansion, practices cello and listens to Edith Piaf. Troubled and neglected, the pair immediately overlook class differences, and their fast friendship soon turns into romance. But Tamsin's habitual thrill seeking foreshadows the disaster to come.

Striking a balance between Peter Jackson's digitally-enhanced Heavenly Creatures and Catherine Hardwicke's in-your-face thirteen, My Summer of Love fashions the ethereal realm of girlhood as well as the dangerous naivete, neediness and temptation lurking in the foggy idyll. Protagonists from Pawlikowski's films haven't quite outgrown their need for adult attention and childish games of role play and make believe, yet their warped minds and growing appetites are capable of channeling that need into chilling pathology. As one would expect, perpetually absent adult figures contribute to the phenomenon.

Ryszard Lenczewski's documentarian-styled handheld and zoom-in camerawork generates an exhilarating spontaneity akin to youth itself. But the technique doesn't necessarily translate into rawness, and the film captures plenty of lovely serenity from unimpressive locales with the help of soft focus, saturated colours and an inspired soundtrack. But while Pawlikowski does render the gist of Cross's work, perhaps he should have preserved some of its rich context - the girls' weight obsession, the miners' strike, fear of nuclear war and a serial killer - that would likely make the final product seem less slight. Given his impressive portrayal of class issues in Last Resort, it's somewhat of a disappointment that Pawlikowski doesn't substantially address the class warfare in My Summer of Love. Even though his superimposed Christianity subplot is integral to a significant development late in the game, it still comes off rather forced.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.