Éric Rohmer is the first director who comes to mind; his contribution to the French new-wave movement is a body of films steeped in summer melancholy and nostalgia. They are both a celebration and a study of the long-held Parisian tradition of escaping to the beach during the summer months, the emptying of Paris and leaving all behind in favor of tanning on rocks and spending long hours discussing the meaning of life on a terrace.
The first Rohmer film I saw was Le rayon vert (1986), named for the elusive phenomenon of seeing a green flash right as the sun sets below the horizon. Le rayon vert follows the female protagonist, a young woman fresh from a breakup who wishes to go on holiday but lacks companions, as she meanders her way through summer in Biarritz. Rohmer has a way of encapsulating modern life and relationships in his understated cinema; his subjects are flawed yet relatable, they dawdle and waste time, complain about their relationships and dread the end of summer. I recommend his films to anyone who feels listless and lonely during this time of year. You might find some solace in his mise en scène. Other titles include Conte d’été (1996) and Le genou de Claire (1970).
If you’re craving something more thrilling than the existential ennui of Rohmer’s protagonists, Jacques Deray’s La piscine (1970) should be just right. Baking under the St. Tropez sun, watch as Alain Delon and Romy Schneider play jealous lovers whose story devolves into something more sinister. The plot is interesting, but this film draws me in during the summertime due to the clear blue of the swimming pool, the film’s centerpiece, and the vibrant green of the surrounding landscape. The smell of chlorine and tanning lotion seems to emanate from these characters as they deceive and betray one another.
If Rohmer’s summer is a celebration of meandering conversations and flânerie lifestyles, La piscine shows us the other side of tropical vacation: madness, heatstroke, and jealousy. This film is romantic and dangerous, luxurious yet murderous. I would recommend it to anyone who finds themselves dreaming of a south of France vacation complete with interpersonal drama and green swim trunks.
For something more recent, I always enjoy Céline Sciamma’s depiction of summer as a return to childhood through coming-of-age stories such as Tomboy (2011). This film follows a young gender nonconforming child in the banlieues of Paris as they navigate friendships and their own identity in the weeks before la rentrée. This film is a study of gender and sexuality in the same vein as the rest of Sciamma’s body of work, however it is also an ode to summertime as the break in between real life, the liminal space between growth and stagnation. The young protagonist is an example of summer’s quiet demand for reinvention; in the hot, slow Paris morning, we discover our truest selves.
Summer, for Sciamma, is a bridge to childhood; it allows us to connect with nature as we were once able to. This film is great for those who might feel introspective and thoughtful during these months, or those who wish to reconnect with themselves and their inner senses of curiosity.
If you’re interested in celebrating summer through French cinema like I am, you still have time to visit the MFA for Boston’s French Film Festival, happening now until Sunday, July 16th. Our members at the French Library receive a 20% discount on each movie they would like to see. To get the discount code, you can email reception. I highly recommend making the discovery of French film this summer, if only to escape from Boston to Biarritz for 90 minutes.
Maxine discovered her affinity for French language and culture while living with a host family and studying French literature in Rennes, Brittany during her junior year of high school with School Year Abroad. During her time at SYA, her parents took beginner’s classes at the French Library—it was then that Maxine first learned of the library’s existence. Maxine continued with her French studies at Tufts University, majoring in English and French literature with a concentration in visual studies. Along with her time in Rennes, Maxine lived in Paris for a summer where she worked at a small art gallery in the Marais.
Six years after her high school experience in France and a year post college graduation, Maxine is thrilled to be the Administrative Assistant to the French Library, where she hopes to continue learning about and celebrating French culture and literature. In her free time, Maxine enjoys reading, seeing the newest art films at Kendall Square Cinema, and going for runs around the Esplanade.