6 February 2021

Jean Becker’s L'Été meurtrier (1983)

Jean Becker’s L'Été meurtrier is based on Sébastien Japrisot's novel L'Été meurtrier (1977), and is a complex and powerful psychological work, a superior revenge thriller. Isabelle Adjani (Elaine/Elle) won a César for best female actor, and although she initially turned down the role because of the nude scenes she would have to play, she changed her mind and cinema is the better for this decision: this is a significant film in the history of French movies.

L'Été meurtrier at first perhaps seems a conventional enough love story, although a series of flashbacks to some extent explain the reasons for the movie turning around a strange bend. The very sexy 19-year-old Elle flounces around the village in Provence she and her parents – Paula Wieck Devigne (Maria Machado), or 'Eva Braun'* as some villagers call her, and her disabled husband Gabriel (Michel Galabru) – have moved to, and she causes quite a stir. She particularly stirs Fiorimondo Montechiari (Alain Souchon), nicknamed Pin-Pon, and the feeling is mutual: Elle swiftly moves into Pin-Pon's family home, causing quite a stir there. Pin-Pon can't believe his luck, although Elle's open nudity and insulting behaviour and comments hardly have the same effect on Pin-Pon's mother (Jenny Clève), but the almost deaf aunt 'Cognata' (Suzanne Flon) understands more than many give her credit for.

But then, many things here are only half or not at all understood, and (for instance) Elle's literal and figurative short-sightedness is only an indication of the misunderstandings that surround the events in this film. Elle is the product of an especially brutal rape of her mother by three overgrown yobs, a fact of which she is aware, and as the film progresses it is evident that the balance of her mind – already greatly disturbed – becomes increasingly so when she learns  the truth. The man who has been her true father tells her that he killed the rapists, that he no longer has an interest in his own fate, and Elle understands that her years of research have been in vain.

Elle goes mad and has to be institutionalised, although Pin-Pon thinks (as Elle originally did) that the two are still living. So he has to kill two innocent (if contemptible) men. This has a sniff of Greek tragedy: a brilliant film.

* The film is set in the late seventies: Paula is German by origin, and at the time the French hadn't forgotten the Nazi atrocities, so Franco-German racism was still the order of the day with some people. 

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