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MOVIE REVIEW

Hard to love this Summer

IT'S nice that homosexuality no longer occupies only the fringes of cinema. In the past decade, movies - Hollywood pictures included - have represented gay and lesbian characters with increasing frequency. Lesbian relationships in particular are currently so commonplace that they've practically become cliché.

My Summer of Love


Starring:Natalie Press, Emily Blunt, Paddy Considine, Dean Andrews, Michelle Byrne
Directed by:Pawel Pawlikowski
Running time:86 min
Rating:6 out of 10


IT'S nice that homosexuality no longer occupies only the fringes of cinema. In the past decade, movies - Hollywood pictures included - have represented gay and lesbian characters with increasing frequency. Lesbian relationships in particular are currently so commonplace that they've practically become cliché.

Long a standard of European erotic art cinema, lesbian characters and scenes now seem de rigueur for any movie that deals with female sexuality. Whether it's an integral part of a character's identity (Boys Don't Cry) or a passing phase (Kissing Jessica Stein), lesbianism - or at least lesbian activity - has apparently been deemed the compelling character trait du jour by filmmakers everywhere.

The new English movie My Summer of Love straddles the fence between these representations, turning what could be interpreted as a sexual diversion into an intense relationship that will forever change the two young women involved. But, try as it might, the film never fully makes this sense of rapture believable. Rather, it seems caught between two types of movies, never managing to fully succeed in either of them.

Stylistically, the movie heavily borrows from the work of Lynne Ramsay, the Scottish director whose two excellent full-length films (Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar) use gritty poeticism to depict issues of class and sexual identity in the contemporary UK. My Summer of Love, too, uses class issues as its jumping-off point for sexual exploration. Like Ramsay, director Pawel Pawlikowski juxtaposes modern, sometimes jumpy camerawork with more static shots of picturesque countryside.

Pawlikowski and Ramsay are extremely interested in alienation, both as a product of and reason for their characters' actions. In this sense, their films share a key theme with Heavenly Creatures, the other film that My Summer of Love most strongly resembles. Directed by Lord of the Rings' Peter Jackson, Heavenly Creatures, like Pawlikowski's film, focuses on the passionate relationship between two girls - one poor, one wealthy - drawn to one another by a mutual sense of dissatisfaction. To cope with the hardship and monotony they find all around them, the girls of Heavenly Creatures create a fantasy world of valiant warriors and demonic villains. Soon, the lines between fantasy and reality become blurred.

My Summer of Love also touches upon the blurring of fantasy and reality, though in a way not nearly as interesting or understandable as Heavenly Creatures. Instead of visually depicting the inner world of its characters (like Heavenly Creatures), My Summer of Love shows how they outwardly interact with their surroundings - through alcohol, sex, drugs, and various other forms of destructive behavior.

Mona (Natalie Press) is a working class woman who balances her time between sexual encounters with her brutish boyfriend Ricky (Dean Andrews), arguments with her fervently born-again Christian brother Phil (Paddy Considine), and hours spent aimlessly roaming the countryside. It's during the latter activity that she meets Tamsin (Emily Blunt), a beautiful young woman spending the summer at her parents' large country estate. Because they both have trouble relating to anyone else - their families especially - the two quickly become friends, bonding over wine, cigarettes, and family horror stories.

As their hours spent together become days, their relationship turns sexual, increasingly intense, and, as it happens, doomed by outward meddling (from Mona's self-righteous brother Phil) and inward muddying (not everything is as it seems). Pawlikowski frequently opts to show scenes of highly emotional breakdowns, a technique that fails because he hasn't given us enough reason - or time - to truly love these characters.

Each actress does her best; Press has a rustic, yet ethereal quality similar to a young Sissy Spacek, while Blunt is mysterious and alluring. But the movie never decides how to effectively treat and understand them. As a result, neither do we.

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