‘The Last Summer’: pleasure, power and the limits of desire in an excellent drama with incestuous overtones | Culture

Desire and decadence have in mind Death in Venice, novel by Thomas Mann, film by Luchino Visconti, its most formidable exponent. On that hot Italian beach, which caused the hair dye of its elegant, sordid and desperate protagonist to slide down his forehead as a symptom of the ardor and internal pain of a finished man in front of the unusual adolescent beauty of his lover, it was represented like rarely the eternal struggle between what is desired and what is forbidden.

That ephebe with mysteriously perfect features, named Tadzio, an inhabitant of Venice in the early years of the 20th century, has little to do in principle with any young man today. And yet, Catherine Breillat seems to have resurrected him with the features and gestures of the young French actor Samuel Kircher, who seems to walk through existence with the same dangerous indolence of that Björn Andrésen discovered by Visconti. The big difference, and that is one of the keys to The last summerBreillat’s excellent film about the limits of desire, is that on the other side there is not a desperate man, a walking corpse with only his gaze and sleep left, but an attractive woman in her fifties: the stepmother of the kid.

Since his debut with a real girl (1976), and even before, when at the age of 17 he wrote L’Homme easy, a novel prohibited by the French government to those under 18 years of age due to its “pornographic” content, the now septuagenarian Breillat was always an uncomfortable filmmaker, in the best sense of the word (which she has, at least for art). Her films never follow the expected path, her characters never react in the most coherent way, her stories always end in a place foreign to the spectator’s placidity. With The last summera work commissioned by its producer, Saïd Ben Saïd, knowing that the material could fit his artistic idiosyncrasy despite being a remake from a recent Danish film, Queen of Hearts (2019), Breillat has made one of his best works.

Léa Drucker, Samuel Kircher (in the background) and Olivier Rabourdin, in ‘The Last Summer’.

With experience in the topic of consensual romance between an adult and a minor (Brief Crossing, from 2001, already followed these paths, although in a more tender way), the French director presents a modern woman, who still listens to Sonic Youth in the car, married to a man much older than her (he does, in the decay of the body), who ends up looking in the mirror of the law and of morality, and perhaps of depravity, regarding her daily work, since she is a lawyer for young girls who suffer harassment and rape. Can there be a consensual romance, even if it is due to the seductive impulse of the boy, between a 50-year-old woman and a 17-year-old boy who is also the son of her husband?

Breillat reflects (without judging), in her sincere and cruel way, and this time very elegant, about the limits of desire (what are they? Are there any?), and moves through a feminism that in this case presents a model of equality with respect to the worst of man: that of abuse, lies and cruelty.

With a magnificent Léa Drucker as the woman willing to do anything to preserve her status, The last summer, Premiered in the competition section of Cannes 2023, it is also, and it is not an incongruity, a very visually beautiful film, with a powerful and at the same time measured look towards the sex sequences (and the first kiss is its best exponent). The rot behind the luxury of Death in Venice has a renewed pattern in Breillat’s film: that of the connection between pleasure and power.

The last summer

Address: Catherine Breillat.
Performers: Léa Drucker, Samuel Kircher, Olivier Rabourdin, Clotilde Courau.
Gender: drama. France, 2023.
Duration: 104 minutes.
Premiere: May 24.

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