'A Beautiful Summer' ('Le Bel été'): Film Review

Courtesy of JHR Films
A subtle and strange portrait of French country life.

Director and real-life farmer Pierre Creton ('Va, Toto!') premiered his latest feature in competition at the FID Marseille International Film Festival.

In the quietly captivating doc-fiction hybrid A Beautiful Summer (Le Bel été), farmer and filmmaker Pierre Creton (Secteur 545) portrays the daily grind of agricultural laborers in a tight-knit community of northeast Normandy’s Pays de Caux region.

Mixing fictional scenes with moments of pure observation, as well as with bits of offbeat, surreal humor, the film captures the spirit of a place where longstanding traditions brush up against the changing face of France — in this case, the arrival of African immigrants on the farm. But the transformation does little to alter the affable ways of the local population, who embrace the newcomers with open arms, embedding them in their culture, terroir and good humor.

Not much actually happens in A Beautiful Summer, which, like Creton’s previous feature Va, Toto!, was shot in the house, and on the land, where the director himself has been making movies, harvesting crops and keeping bees for several decades.

And yet the film exudes a certain charm as we are gradually immersed in the slow rhythms of Vattetot-sur-Mer, a picturesque enclave nestled between the Atlantic and a series of rolling hills as green as the Irish countryside. It’s there that two young Guinean refugees, Mohamed (Mohamed Samoura) and Amed (Amed Kromah), arrive after being rescued from a camp in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais by a welcoming gay couple (Yves Édouard, Sébastien Frère), who integrate them into life on the farm.

Working the fields in the day and studying French at night or on the weekends, Mohamed and Amed are asylum seekers hoping to open up their own restaurant back in Conakry. In the meantime, one of them interns in the kitchen of a fancy local golf club, learning the ropes of French cooking, while the other helps around the house.

A subplot, involving an older refugee’s love affair with the couple running the farm, seems to come out of nowhere — as with other storylines, it’s hard to tell if it’s true or invented — and doesn’t really go anywhere, either. It’s as if Creton were testing out narrative material but never fully developing it, which can be frustrating in a movie that works better when it simply observes its subjects in their everyday routines.

Handsomely shot by Creton and Léo Gil Mena, A Beautiful Summer makes the best of its bucolic seaside setting — most notably in scenes filmed along the massive cliffs rising above the town. Other sequences, set in the interior of the farmhouse, are softly backlit with what looks like natural light, casting everyone’s face in a supple glow.  

An upbeat soundtrack by the French rock duo The Limiñanas adds some pep to the proceedings and provides a counterpoint to the unhurried atmosphere of the country. Alongside the cast of unknowns, actor and auteur Mathieu Amalric makes a cameo as a motorcycle repairman who harbors what seems to be unusual healing powers.

Premiering in the French competition at the FID Marseille International Film Festival, where Creton has screened a number of his films (16 shorts and six features thus far), A Beautiful Summer will be released theatrically in France this coming November.

Production company: Andolfi
Cast: Yves Edouard, Sébastien Frère, Sophie Lebel, Gaston Ouedraogo, Mohamed Samoura, Amed Kromah, Mathieu Amalric
Director: Pierre Creton
Screenwriter: Pierre Creton, with the collaboration of Mathilde Girard and Vincent Barré
Producer: Arnaud Dommerc
Directors of photography: Pierre Creton, Léo Gil Mena
Editor: Pierre Creton
Sales: Andolfi

In French
81 minutes