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One Deadly Summer (Blu-ray Review)

9 Nov, 2015 By: Mike Clark

Street 11/10/15
$24.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’
Stars Isabelle Adjani, Alain Suchon, Suzanne Flon.

Isabelle Adjani rose to international stardom in the mid-1970s playing Victor Hugo’s tragically lovesick daughter in Francois Truffaut’s The Story of Adele H — ending up with a best actress Oscar nomination, which is still not all that common a feat with a foreign-language release. But in that case, the strong and almost overnight impression she made emanated from a role of pedigreed refinement (at least until her character went crazy). This is hardly true with One Deadly Summer, for which Adjani (in what I’d speculate was a slam-dunk pick) took one of her five career Cesars playing the town-tart-with-a-cause. The summer setting here is a fairly quiet Southern France village — or at least it is until Adjani’s provocative newcomer shows up with a wheelchair-bound father, a world-weary German mother and lots of attitude.

I frankly didn’t remember this movie, though its history starts to come back when I see on IMDb.com that Universal gave it U.S. distribution the very week I began as a film critic for USA Today. With this revelation, my memory is jogged into vague recollection (though in those days I was mostly assigned to movies with “Boogaloo” in the title). In France, however, Summer made a very large dent: nine Cesar nominations in all including additional wins for adapted screenplay, supporting actress (Suzanne Flon as the deaf aunt of Adjani’s ultimate squeeze) and film editing — though at 133 minutes, the picture is a tad long and lumpy, which is by no means to deny that I’ll someday be looking at it again. Ultimately, this revenge saga belongs to Adjani and its vibrant “look” — though veteran Flon’s performance is something of a joy to behold amidst the story’s no small dosage of emotional squalor.

This is, indeed, a revenge movie, though its motivation probably extends into spoiler territory: a brutal event that took place in the 1950s before the Adjani character was born. Which reminds me: Of all the unrealized film series I wanted to program during my near-decade at the AFI Theater, a revenge collection to be called Don’t Get Mad, Get Even (opening night would have been launched by One-Eyed Jacks) will always be No. 1 on my regret list — and had I been more familiar with Summer, it definitely would have rated a slot on any proposed schedule due to the tasty twists and turns its story ends up taking (various participants alternate narrating from their POVs in Rashomon style). As part of the Adjani character’s plot, she insinuates herself into a family of young men — though “insinuates” is a euphemism for what naturally happens when a character with her looks spends a lot of time walking around naked, or sans underwear or in diaphanous garb. The senior brother (Alain Souchon) is the one with whom she finally settles down, though fans of French cinema will note that the middle sibling is played by a very young-looking Francois Cluzet, who much later had the male lead in 2006’s fabulous Tell No One (which got over here in 2008).

The story has layers and layers of “event,” and some will say too many: complicated family dynamics of two clans; a lesbian sidebar; a kept-woman sidebar; a crucial flashback; incessant car trouble; and even bicycle racing. In truth, most of this compels, though a good deal of it is inevitably subordinate to the scenes of Paris-born Adjani simply strutting her stuff — which, even though the actress is of Algerian Muslim/German parentage, has a lot of Vive la France currency; you can see how, in a previous era, it might have inspired Jean Gabin to round up a million of his closest friends to join the French Resistance.

Included here are interviews with Adjani and director Jean Becker, but it’s Blu-ray snap that provides the capper. Though Tanelorn Films brought Summer out a few years back on a DVD that got by me, I haven’t seen many DVDs where the color quality rocks to the degree it does here. IMDb.com says the picture was shot in Eastman Color, but this one really boasts old-school Technicolor cosmetics — thanks possibly in part to a lot of summer-ish outdoor footage abetted by a huge dose of Frank Capra once called, in his twilight TV days, “Our Mr. Sun.”

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