'Last Summer' Review: Catherine Breillat's stepmother seduction story pushes boundaries

‘Last Summer’ Review: Catherine Breillat’s stepmother seduction story pushes boundaries

Like some of his most memorable films, including 36 Girlfriend, Romance, Sex is comedy AND anatomy of hellthe new feature film by French screenwriter and director Catherine Breillat, Last summer (Last summer), straddles perilously between unnerving drama, dark comedy and erotic exploitation, which is exactly where the director wants to be.

On the surface, the plot seems to be straight out of a softcore stepmother movie, following a successful lawyer, Anne (Léa Drucker), who has an illicit affair with her stepson, Théo (Samuel Kircher), a rebellious 17-year-old who looks like a stunt double for Timothee Chalamet. But while the film might follow that pattern at first glance, including a handful of pretty straightforward sex scenes, Breillat is looking for something other than just Skinemax fodder, probing the depths of desire among a bourgeoisie forced to live boring, cold existences. , and the manipulation that can take place between two lovers with a significant age difference.

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Last summer

The bottom line

Only in France.

Place: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)
Launch: Léa Drucker, Samuel Kircher, Olivier Rabourdin, Clotilde Courau, Serena Hu, Angela Chen
Director, screenwriter: Catherine Breillat

1 hour and 44 minutes

Previewed in competition at Cannes, Last summer looks like Todd Haynes’ salacious French cousin may december, which played at the beginning of the festival and chronicled the long and controversial relationship between a teenager and a woman twice his age. But whereas Haynes was interested in how such a love story could shock the American mind and yet sustain itself over time, Breillat’s more destructive instincts seek how it could wreak havoc on comfortable lives, less because of great age differences than because of conventions. social. which together bind and force.

The story, which Breillat adapted from the 2019 Danish film Queen of Hearts, is also a very Gallic take on the thorny subject of sexual abuse – which, not surprisingly, is what the hardworking and combative Anne specializes in at her law firm. During the film’s opening scene, she tells a young female client, who has hired her on a rape case, that “the victim sometimes becomes the accused”—and much of Last summer talks about how this applies first to Anne, and then to teenager Théo, who moves into the spacious country house where Anne lives with the young man’s father, Pierre (Olivier Rabourdin).

A lanky bad boy and chain smoker who was arrested for punching a primary school teacher in Switzerland, where he resided with his mother, Théo spends his time bouncing around the house shirtless and making as many resting whore faces as possible possible. He is, however, a rather fun-loving older brother to Pierre and Anne’s adorable adopted daughters Serena (Serena Hu) and Angela (Angela Hu), but seems to harbor a real hatred for her father, a tight-lipped businessman. tightened with constant financial worries.

The setting is therefore ripe for Théo to seduce Anne to spite Pierre, or just because he is bored, and it doesn’t take long for his stepson and stepmother to enjoy themselves in the countryside and, finally, between the sheets. There are three lengthy sex sequences in the film, each shot in close-up – unlike many of Breillat’s films, there’s almost no nudity here – and each reveals one character having fun at the expense of another. In the first, it is Pierre on Anne in a scene without any passion. In the second, it is Théo who has an outrageously demonstrative orgasm when he sleeps with his stepmother for the first time. In the third, Anne finally gets her due.

In Breillat’s twisted world, desire is not something mutually shared, but rather stolen from someone else or forced upon them, often when they are at their most vulnerable. (The title of the director’s last highly autobiographical feature was Weakness abuse.) At first, it seems that Théo is taking advantage of Anne’s stalled love life through his killer looks and sinister charm. But how Last summer proceeds, the tide turns, and Anne more clearly gains the upper hand, using her legal cunning to corner Théo.

A normal Hollywood movie would turn the third act into a… Fatal Attractionthriller-type, and while Breillat leans in that direction at times, introducing tape recordings and lawsuits, it’s too transgressive to go there. By taking control of her own libido, Anne risks harming both Théo and the increasingly vulnerable Pierre, and we begin to wonder if she even cares if she does. It’s an all-or-nothing approach that Drucker thoroughly convincing (Custody), who deserves more starring roles like this, portrays less as a case of wicked stepmother than a woman’s uninhibited pursuit of herself.

Some viewers will object to the fact that Anne ultimately wants her stepson to play and eat too, but Last summer it is a film that challenges moral boundaries and narrative conventions. With his punk attitude — the soundtrack features an original song by Sonic Youth — Breillat once again takes us to the limits of the acceptable, asking us to ask ourselves whether we should have limits.