Last Summer review – Catherine Breillat’s all too safe version of a dangerous romance
Samuel Kircher and Léa Drucker in Last Summer. Photograph: SBS Productions
Breillat’s remake of Queen of Hearts rather pointlessly draws the sting from a mother’s affair with her teenage stepson
Catherine Breillat has made a hot – or rather tepid – mess of this remake of the very recent Danish erotic thriller Queen of Hearts, and it’s not immediately clear why exactly she felt she needed to direct her own moderate version. The changes amount to smudging the original’s icy Scandi sheen, decreasing its erotic excitement, making the performances more laboured and thus leaving the story’s essential preposterousness dangerously exposed.
The first film, from writer-director May el-Toukhy, featured Trine Dyrholm as an elegant career lawyer specialising in representing rape victims who has a passionate affair with her teen stepson; that is, her husband’s moody son by his first marriage. Now the action is transplanted from chilly Denmark to sunny, summery France and Léa Drucker plays legal high-flyer Anne, married to wealthy but dull businessman Pierre (Olivier Rabourdin), with two adorable adopted twin girls. She has a sister, Mina (Clotilde Courau), who lives locally, has a less glamorous and successful life and is affectionately yet shrewdly unimpressed by Anne’s pretensions.
When Pierre’s tearaway 17-year-old son Théo (Samuel Kircher) proves to be impossible for his ex-wife to handle, he comes to live with Anne and Pierre, and Anne is affected by his tousled, pouting gorgeousness, his loneliness, his vulnerability under the sullen attitude and the way he walks around with his shirt off, revealing a toned torso so different from her husband’s sagging paunch. Anne becomes – in the immortal words of Noël Coward – mad about the boy. One thing leads to another, among them the realisation that Anne can be pretty ruthless in the cause of her own survival. Her high-bourgeois life is shown by the way she stands around drinking wine all the time in her lovely home, and the streak of potential rebelliousness is signalled by her open-topped sports car, which isn’t too practical for ferrying a family around.
Breillat’s movie rolls along capably enough while the affair is in progress, but it’s tested to destruction when things go wrong. She is not good at delivering the iciness crucial to the story’s third act, happier as she is with the sunny, languorous sexiness of the amour fou. And the plot developments of the film’s final section, particularly Anne’s last encounter with Théo, just look silly.
Breillat seems to have retreated from the uncompromising approach to sexuality that she showed in famous films like À Ma Soeur!, and yet seems uncomfortable in the Chabrol-type drama in which Isabelle Huppert might, under other circumstances, have played the Anne role. Basically, Anne needs that Greeneian splinter of ice in her heart. Drucker hasn’t got it – and Breillat’s movie doesn’t find a way for her to get it.