Bitter season

By |2005-06-30T09:00:00-04:00June 30th, 2005|Entertainment|

All 16 year-old Mona (Nathalie Press) wants is for her born again brother Phil (Paddy Considine) to shut the hell up about Jesus so she can concentrate on her next drink, her next cigarette, her next shag by her married boyfriend. She wants the old Phil back – the one she knew before he went to prison and found God, before he converted the family pub he and Mona live above into a meeting place for evangelicals.
When Phil erects a giant cross he’s built on the village hillside and vows to “bring love to this valley,” he definitely has his unsaved sister in mind. However, he’s hoping what Mona will find is Jesus, not a girlfriend.
Of course, considering what Mona has to choose from as a conduit for salvation, it’s hardly surprising she choses Tamsin (Emily Blunt), a nubile 16-year old sophisticate, over Phil.
The two girls meet quite by accident. While lounging in the grass one day, Mona looks up to see Tamsin on a beautiful white horse. Tamsin is curious about this strange girl on her back next to a motorless motorbike. Their friendship blossoms more from mutual boredom than mutual interests. Tamsin is beautiful and rich, educated in the finest boarding schools. Mona is pretty in a rough sort of way. She’s never known wealth and her foul mouth belies her barroom education.
As they say, opposites attract, and Tamsin and Mona’s friendship soon becomes a passionate and obsessive romance. The girls spend their time at Tamsin’s house where there are rarely any adults present. The girls kiss, have sex, sunbathe in the nude, drink wine and smoke.
They also confide in one another as friends and lovers do. Tamsin theatrically mourns her older sister, dead from anorexia. Mona confesses her affair with a married man, even demonstrating his hurried sexual technique. The girls become as tangled in each other as the fact and fiction of their stories.
“We must never be parted,” Tamsin tells Mona during a breathless embrace. “If you leave me I’ll kill you.”
“If you leave me I’ll kill you,” Mona responds, “and then I’ll kill myself.”
“My Summer of Love” isn’t a lesbian coming-of-age story. Mona and Tamsin are less like budding lesbians and more like aimless youth, trying to fill up their teenage emptiness with each other. Under the surface of it all is the clear inequity in their relationship, and the film illustrates their class differences well. It is more a story of manipulation than romance.
Tamsin exudes the kind of detached cruelty that comes from having too much beauty and privilege. She is a girl who can afford to play-pretend at love. Is Mona more than a curiosity for her? Is their love a fantasy that makes her comfortable life less boring?
Mona, on the other hand, has precious little to lose. Her parents are dead. Her brother is a stranger to her now. She tells Tamsin that she looks forward to a life of working hard, marrying a bastard, and churning out kids with mental problems. Though she is mostly joking, it’s clear that her path has been pre-destined. The only thing that seems to point away from her fate is Tamsin – and she is ready to follow her anywhere.
Phil, too, falls under Tamsin’s spell. When she tries to tempt him away from Jesus his righteous persona begins to crumble and it becomes pretty clear why he ended up in prison to begin with.
The film’s title belies its ending. “My Summer of Love” isn’t called “My Lifetime of Love.” Summer, eventually, comes to an end. The sun has no intention of hanging around for any of these characters any longer than seasonally required.
While the film may be difficult to watch, emotionally, it is a cinematic beauty. Director of photography Ryszard Lenczewski and director Pawel Pawlikowski have crafted a film that looks a lot better than it feels.
“My Summer of Love” is also a showcase for new acting talent. Paddy Considine is chillingly perfect as Phil. Emily Blunt turns out a fine performance as the detached and manipulative Tamsin.
But it is Nathalie Press who steals the picture. Press shines as Mona, a girl who learns that faith is often something that finds you, not the other way around. Her options are limited. Her choices are questionable. But she does the best she can choosing between being stabbed in the proverbial eye or punched in the allegorical gut. In the end, Mona is stronger, and more dangerous, than we think.

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