‘This Summer Feeling’: Rotterdam Review

This Summer Feeling Still - H 2016
Courtesy of Pyramide Distribution

This Summer Feeling Still - H 2016

A fitting lead performance anchors this otherwise fleeting French indie.

Anders Danielsen Lie (‘Oslo, August 31st’) stars in Mikhael Hers’ sophomore feature.

The quiet sufferings of a 30-year-old traumatized by the sudden loss of his girlfriend are explored with mundane intimacy in This Summer Feeling (Ce sentiment de l’ete), writer-director Mikhael Hers’ follow-up to his minor key 2010 debut, Memory Lane. Set across three cities during three distinct time periods, and starring Norwegian actor Anders Danielsen Lie in a role that recalls his breakout performance in Oslo, August 31st, this narratively lightweight drama premiered internationally in Rotterdam after winning the top prize at Bordeaux, and should play best with niche viewers who don’t mind sitting back and watching, if not always feeling engaged.

After several critically acclaimed shorts and a first feature that attracted a small following in France, Hers has established himself as a purveyor of artfully made indie flicks that can sometimes stretch banality to its breaking point. But whereas Memory Lane’s portrait of forlorn suburbanites outside of Paris hardly had a story to speak of, This Summer Feeling benefits from a sharper, and considerably darker, look at long-term mourning that starts off promisingly but tends to fade in the latter reels.

Translator/writer Lawrence (Lie) is spending a pleasant summer in Berlin with his partner Sasha (Stephanie Dehel) when the latter unexpectedly dies, leaving her boyfriend to endure a new life alone and without much hope. Connecting with Sasha’s French family, including her younger sis Zoe (Judith Chemla) and mother Adelaide (Eric Rohmer favorite Marie Riviere), Lawrence tries to overcome his loss by spending lots of quiet time with friends and loved ones, though it will take several years and a bit of continent hopping for him to see the light again.

With each act taking place a year apart and in a different world capital, the screenplay (by Hers and Mariette Desert, Suzanne) depicts Lawrence’s gradual reawakening across a series of sun-drenched days and beer-soaked evenings, with conversations—many of them involving fellow lost soul Zoe—broaching the subject of death and remembrance in an everyday, often undramatic way. Rather than offering up the pathos-driven processus de deuil of Guillaume Canet’s Little White Lies, or the post-mortem hijinks of its predecessor The Big Chill, This Summer Feeling revels in a kind of generational mundanity, concentrating on little moments that may mean a lot but are not always clear to the eye.

The pace picks up some in the final, Brooklyn-set section, where director Josh Safdie (Heaven Knows What) cameos as a kvetching New Yawka who tries to help his childhood friend Lawrence climb out of his rut. (The fact that Safdie sounds like he’s from Canarsie, and Lie from Norway, is never fully explained by the script.) But although the Gotham backgrounds provide significant eye candy, as does a woman (Dounia Sichov) who Lawrence meets and may have the hots for, there’s not much that seems surprising or illuminating about the film’s rather foreseeable finale.

With action divided between Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg in Berlin, the eastern quartiers of Paris and the heart of Williamsburg—plus a few trips to the lakeside French city of Annecy—Hers definitely tries to diversify his locations, though his movie can sometimes feel like a catalog of recent urban gentrification. Working again with DP Sebastien Buchmann (Declaration of War), who shot on Super-16, he manages to capture the fleeting beauties of modern industrial landscapes transformed into hipster havens, and thankfully spares us all the beards and fixed-gear bikes.  

Lie was already a major discovery in Joachim Trier’s Oslo and Reprise, and while he generally has less to work with here, his presence still anchors a film that gets as much mileage as it can out of the actor’s angular physique. Lawrence may not be the most animated of characters, but the loss that weighs him down feels palpable at times, even if it would be nice to know more about what he’s thinking during all those extended silences.

Other performances are naturalistic if sometimes amateurish (especially in the NY scenes, excluding those with the exuberant Safdie), while a persistent score by French folk artist David Sztanke (aka Tahiti Boy) lends the film a sweet and melancholic air.

Production companies: Nord-Ouest Films, Arte France Cinema, Katuh Studio, Rhone-Alpes Cinema
Cast: Anders Danielsen Lie, Judith Chemla, Marie Riviere, Feodor Atkine, Dounia Sichov, Josh Safdie
Director: Mikhael Hers
Screenwriters: Mikhael Hers, Mariette Desert
Producer: Pierre Guyard
Director of photography: Sebastien Buchmann
Production designer: Sidney Dubois
Costume designer: Caroline Spieth
Editor: Marion Monnier
Composer: David Sztanke “Tahiti Boy”
Casting director: Marion Touitou
Sales: Pyramide

In French, English, German
106 minutes