It is the very early nineteen-seventies, and Delphine (Izïa Higelin) has lived on a farm in the French countryside all her life, and now as she has become a woman she has a choice about whether to stay there and assist her parents (Jean-Henri Compère and Noémie Lvovsky) or set off into the wider world, and attend university in Paris. Both complicating matters and helping to make up her mind is a factor she dare not tell her parents about: she has a girlfriend who she has been seeing for some time, but after her lover tells her that their affair was pretty much a phase she was going through and now she is going to "grow up" and get married, Delphine makes her decision: Paris it is.
Co-writer (with Laurette Polmanss) and director Catherine Corsini called Summertime, or La belle saison in its original title, her most personal film; she had enough years behind her to remember what the tumultuous world of the seventies was like for a young woman, especially in France where the women's liberation movement was gathering pace, and those years of fighting for equality and recognition were obviously very important to her. She was making the case that they should be important to everyone given their influence on the twenty-first century, and she carried that off through the medium of a romance as her protagonist finds she can spread her wings and be who she wants to be when she meets Spanish teacher Carole.
She was played by Cécile De France, the popular Belgian actress whose character was already in a relationship when she meets Delphine, but won over by the younger woman's rustic charm they start an affair, even though Carole had never considered herself a lesbian before. It’s not entirely clear what made her wake up to this revelation, but Corsini strongly hints it was the heady atmosphere of female emancipation that made her realise the most provocative thing she could do as one of her gender was to fall in love with someone of the same sex, so it becomes a statement of her beliefs. Just when you start to think that maybe that's not the best basis for a strong romance, the affection deepens.
Although that could easily be down to the physical side of their connection, as the film did not shy away from showing how much they enjoyed the sexuality of their bond, with not five minutes going by without them both whipping off their clothes and getting down to carnal pleasure. Yet as this was a female director presenting these scenes, Summertime did not come across as particularly exploitative, it simply acknowledged that it was an important part of the couple's lives and didn't settle on such sequences to the exclusion of all else. Fair enough, at the time this was set the depiction of sex and nudity in films was becoming more prevalent, even more prevalent than it would be decades later when this was produced, and Corsini reflected that newfound freedom as it paralleled the lovers' liberation of thought and their place in society.
All very positive, but there had to be a downside, and it occurred when Delphine had to go back to the farm when her father suffers a stroke, rendering him unable to work. She feels a duty to return and help out, effectively running the place and in that summer of 1971 Carole goes with her because they cannot bear to be apart. Trouble is, Paris may be more enlightened about homosexuality, but out there among the village folk they are a lot less accepting, and the ladies have to keep their love a secret, though they are so amorous that they keep accidentally being glimpsed having a snog by surprised locals. It would be nice to say that in this rural idyll (the scenery is rather wonderfully captured by cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie) a peace was able to be gained for the pair, but not necessarily, which slightly soured the story when it seemed to be falling back on ultimately unhappy homosexuals clichés of a lot of cinema with gay characters, though this just about recovered its poise when we understood that they could both learn good things from their experiences, so it wasn't all gloom and despondency. All that sunshine made it look optimistic, anyway. Music by Grégoire Hetzel.
[There's an interview with the director and the producer on Curzon's DVD.]