Monday, 8 February 2010

L’été meurtrier, Jean Becker, France 1983

On the outset, l’été meurtrier is a - complex, powerful - film about seduction and revenge, but at the centre it is a character study of an emotionally unstable girl whose life is turned upside down when she learns about the traumatic events surrounding her origins.

The film's central character, Eliane, is compellingly and convincingly played by Isabelle Adjani who excels at portraying Eliane as the multifaceted persona that she is: the scheming, vindictive, seductress as well as the unbalanced, disturbed, child. That Eliane has us, the viewer, on her side from the very first, regardless of her ulterior motives and her hidden agenda, is due to Adjani’s sensitive portrayal that succeeds at bringing out Eliane’s dark side by also highlighting her vulnerability.

The fact that Eliane’s mother is a German immigrant is a crucial to the narrative of l’été meurtrier - and it has its parallel in real life as Adjani’s own mother is German.

The character of Eliane is reminiscent of Linda in David Leland’s Wish You Were Here, both being girls where a lack of paternal and maternal love results in emotional instability, although in Eliane’s case, this emotional instability has far more severe consequences. Besides their similar emotional background, it is primarily their wit, their sassiness, and their folly - which at times is hilariously funny - that makes them sisters. And it is this side which wins us, the audience, over and which makes us side with and root for them from the start.

But unlike Leland’s film, Becker’s is that much darker. It is also far more complex as Becker not only uses several time levels, but also tells his story from several points of view. This device works surprisingly well as it adds to the sense of doom that dominates the film from the very start when Alain Souchon - playing PinPon, Eliane’s love interest - as the first of a number of narrators, begins to tell his story whereby neither his tone of voice nor what he says leave any doubt about the impending tragedy of which he becomes victim and perpetrator both at the same time.