Lesbian Lives Matter in Summertime

Quite early on in Catherine Corsini’s embraceable French import Summertime (La Belle Saison), a group of young Parisian women run through the streets, laughing aloud while pinching male asses. The buttocks-ravished men are both startled and outraged. How dare they be made into sexual objects. One gent even starts whacking away at a lass, but to her rescue comes farm-girl/tractor-driver/physically strapping Delphine (Izïa Higelin).

Please note the year is 1971 and feminism is a-brewing, pleasantly knocking the closeted, recent rural-escapee for a loop. Suddenly, she’s not in a field with gaseous bovines but in a bus encircled by attractive, long-haired, rowdy, activist Amazons, who care not a whit whether one is into scissoring or the missionary position. All sex is good. All male subordination of the “fairer” gender is bad. They even sing, “Arise, enslaved woman.”

<i>In Summertime, young feminists fight for their rights and smoke Gauloises.</i>
In Summertime, young feminists fight for their rights and smoke Gauloises.

Suddenly, our enthralled heroine is attending political conscious-raising groups, helping to cause havoc at anti-abortion lectures, and pasting women’s libber fliers on bare-bodied statues. She’s having a hoot . . . and even more so when she meets Carole (Cécile de France), a beautiful, blonde, free-spirited Spanish teacher, who is, unbeknownst to Delphine, hetero-inflexible.

Yes, Carole is leading a robust copulatory life with her live-in comrade, Manuel (Benjamin Bellecour), an easy-on-your-eyes Commie chap. Clearly, she adores her new friend from the fields, but in that angst-generating, hands-off platonic manner we all know so well.

Frustrated, especially after discovering Carole’s phallic leanings, a despondent Delphine no doubt recalls the conversation she had with her dad on the farm at the beginning of the film. He was prodding her to wed a former schoolmate, Antoine.

Delphine: I don’t want to get married.

Father: You can’t be alone forever. Loneliness is a terrible thing. 

That’s one reason she no doubt left the countryside. Well, things have to change so she passionately kisses Carole on a Parisian side street, then takes her home for some life-changing lovemaking.

<i>Delphine (Iz&iuml;a Higelin) and Carole (C&eacute;cile de France) have a transformative smooch.</i>
Delphine (Izïa Higelin) and Carole (Cécile de France) have a transformative smooch.

Will the two become a couple in a few short scenes? Just check out the photos accompanying this review for the answer. Poor Manuel! What’s the lesbian version of that old chestnut, “If you go black, you’ll never go back”?

Anyway, here are some other pertinent questions you might just want to ask. Will Carole go out nude on a balcony after achieving yet another orgasm and scream, “Down with bourgeois society”? Will something unforeseen occur that will force Delphine to return to haystacking? Will Carole follow? And will happiness ensue? Well, remember the action takes place in the 1970s.

<i>Delphine finds momentary bliss off the farm.</i>
Delphine finds momentary bliss off the farm.

But whatever occurs, this well-directed and intensely convincing offering co-written by Corsini and Laurette Polmanss, might just be the Carol and Blue is the Warmest Color of 2016. The leads are enthralling, and the way the semi-rocky romance is handled makes this a perfect Sapphic date film.

Summertime also supplies a considerably important history lesson on how the Women’s Rights Movement was intertwined with the battle against homophobia. Without the former, there’d be no latter, a point many gay men are unaware of or simply refuse to acknowledge, which reminds me of The New York Times Op-Ed columnist Maureen Dowd’s mother.

Dowd recalled in her quick-witted collection of essays, Are Men Necessary? that in 1982, for her 31st birthday, her mom wrote her, “Women can stand on the Empire State Building and scream to the heavens that they are equal to men and liberated, but until they have the same anatomy, it’s a lie. It’s more of a man’s world today than ever. Men can eat their cake in unlimited bakeries.”

Buns aside, if watching Corsini’s Summertime is a beguiling experience ― and it is ― experiencing her garish 2001 self-hating-lesbian-themed flick, La Répétition, is a garish enjoyment, sort of like dreaming k.d. lang is topping you, only to wake up to discover your dachshund is where he shouldn’t be.

The tale begins with two smiling little girls playing footsy with each other. Cut. Next shot: Louise (Pascale Bussières) and Nathalie (Emmanuelle Béart) are now starring in an avant-garde college production. Louise, donning a huge pink wig that has to be held up by a clothesline, has the following memorable speech:

I’m dirty. Fleas devour me. When they see me, the swine vomit. The scabs and scars of leprosy have scaled my skin, covered with yellow pus. . . . In my right armpit, a family of toads have taken residence.

Her acting is as horrible as her lines while Nathalie, with a less macabre speech, is charismatic.

At a party afterwards, Louise has a jealous rage when she sees Nathalie dancing with a man. They battle, and Louise runs home, cuts her wrists, and decides never to see her friend again. Nathalie wonders why.

<i>Louise (Pascale Bussi&egrave;res) learns unrequited love hurts so she starts making dentures.</i>
Louise (Pascale Bussières) learns unrequited love hurts so she starts making dentures.

Jump ahead a decade or so. Nathalie is a critically acclaimed avante-garde actress living with her male director. Louise, however, has become a prosthodontist and married a prosthodontist. Nevertheless, she still loves Nathalie. Then after some touch and go, the pair meet again, have one night of sex, and Louise realizes she’s a lesbian. Nathalie though wants never to see her pal again, especially after she gets a bad stomachache, which she blames on same-sex coitus. It turns out to be appendicitis, which she also blames on lesbianism.

One of the highlights is when Louise secretly fingers Nathalie’s undergarments in her bureau like a pedophile tenderly reaching for a “Tickle Me Ernie.” A low-rent take on Bernard Herrmann’s fright music plays in the background. Yes, La Répétition makes The Killing of Sister George seem like The Little Mermaid. Let’s hope in the very near future, the clearly first-rate Corsini takes on a contemporary project where two openly, well-adjusted lesbians meet, fall in love, and cohabitate forever more. Maybe if she needs a little drama, she can have ―if she must ― a meteor fall on their house, but only when the characters have reached their nineties.

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