Lesbian Lives Matter in Summertime

Quite early on in Catherine Corsini's embraceable French import Summertime, a group of young Parisian women run through the streets, laughing aloud while pinching male asses. Viva, Simone de Beauvoir! The buttocks-ravished men are both startled and outraged. How dare they be made into sexual objects. One gent even starts attacking 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."

Suddenly, our enthralled heroine is attending political conscious-raising groups, helping to cause havoc at anti-abortion lectures, and pasting women's lib 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 back on the farm at the beginning of the film.  Pops wanted 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 Delphine no doubt left the countryside. Well, things have to change, so one afternoon, she passionately kisses Carole on a Parisian side street, then takes her home for some life-changing lovemaking.

Will the two become a couple in a few short scenes? Of course. Poor Manuel! 

Hey, what's the lesbian version of that old chestnut, "Once 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.

But whatever occurs, this well-directed and intensely written offering 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 on women’s lib.

Dowd recalled in her quick-witted collection of essays, Are Men Necessary? that in 1982, for her 31st birthday, her mom wrote her a letter warning, "Women can stand on the Empire State Building and scream to the heavens that they are equal to men and liberated, but until 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." Have the times changed?

Hot-cross buns aside,  watching Corsini's Summertime is a captivating experience, yet bearing witness to her garish 2001 self-hating lesbian-themed flick, La Répétition, is a garish enjoyment too, 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 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 performance is horrible, while Nathalie, with a less macabre speech, is charismatic.

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

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 is married to a male prosthodontist. Nevertheless, she still loves Nathalie. After some touch and go, the pair meet again and have one night of sex. Louise realizes at that point 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. The film descends even further into self-pitying misery from this moment on.

One of its highlights, though, is when Louise secretly fingers Nathalie's undergarments in her bureau. A low-rent take on Bernard Herrmann’s horror music plays in the background. Inarguably, La Répétition makes The Killing of Sister George seem like The Little Mermaid. Let's hope in the near future the clearly talented Corsini takes on a contemporary project where two openly, well-adjusted lesbians meet, fall in love, and cohabitate forever more. Then maybe for a little drama, when the lovers are both in their nineties, she can then — if she must — have a meteor fall on their house. -Brandon Judell

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Catch Summertime at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on July 22 in New York City.

Mr. Judell has written on film for The Village VoiceindieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.

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