Saturday 27 May 2023

Cannes 2023 - Last Summer by Catherine Breillat

After a ten years absence, controversial French filmmaker Catherine Breillat is back with the remake of a recent Danish film, Queen of Heart by May el-Toukhy and whose premise proves that she has not lost her willingness to provoke! One has to wonder what pushed her to adapt a film that is just about four years old if it was not to add her own unique touch push the boundaries even further so it is safe to say Last Summer was received with a certain trepidation in Cannes.

Compared to the racy, challenging and confrontational films of her early career, Catherine Breillat seems to have mellowed with Last Summer that comes across more as a more understated psychological drama, at first at least. Yet if the form is less antagonistic and the imagery less graphic, she has lost nothing of her acute understanding of human relationships. 

Breillat delicately explores a taboo subject yet the film remains as sharp and incisive as in her previous works. At the heart of Last Summer is Léa Drucker's nuanced portrayal of Anne, an upper middle-class woman grappling with the complexities of unexpected desire and societal expectations. Breillat, known for her unflinching depiction of the matters of the hear, uses subtlety to convey the intensity of Anne's forbidden affair while keeping us at bay about her true feelings and cultivating a certain mystery about  her true feelings and her actions without ever frustrating the audience.

Breillat captures the nuances of her story through carefully crafted dialogues and compelling character development but what sets Last Summer apart is the narrative's unexpected turns. Just as it felt as if it was going to follow a well worn path it then delves into the shifting power dynamics between Anne and her younger lover. Breillat artfully dismantles traditional gender roles, challenging preconceived notions about age, desire, and control. The two lead characters are not mere archetypes but complex individuals navigating the intricacies of their emotions and the rigged rules of society. The film invites the audience to empathise with Anne at first, challenging our moral notions about age-appropriate relationships yet pulls the rug under us as the story unfolds. There is also an interesting commentary about youth and the common narrative about its grip on society, with younger generations seemingly more clued up about the ways of the world and using this to their advantage against hapless adults, except that this confidence and control are revealed to be so fragile.

Léa Drucker is quite simply extraordinary, at once vulnerable and monstrous, going from victim to steely determination in a flash. She is a strong contender for best actress in this year's competition. Last Summer is  morally challenging yet perceptive work whose last few scenes will haunt audiences.

Review by Laurent de Alberti

Star rating: 

Official Selection, In Competition.

Last Summer. Directed by Catherine Breillat. Starring Léa Drucker, Samuel Kircher...

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