Berlinale 2022 review: That Kind of Summer (Denis Côté)

That Kind of Summer has many deep and insightful ideas, but refuses to be overly academic, often making excellent use of atmosphere and tone to convey a particular message.”

Attempting to make sense of the ideas curated by Denis Côté can sometimes be a challenge – he is a filmmaker with a very particular vision, albeit one that does not always make itself clear, especially not at the outset, where the viewer is normally confronted with a range of dizzying ideas that can feel overwhelming if one is not prepared for such a barrage of complexity. His most recent offering, That Kind of Summer (Un été comme ça) is a difficult work, far more captivating than it would appear in its first moments, which are seemingly used to intentionally alienate us from these characters and their surroundings, that will serve as the foundation of a truly haunting exploration of the human condition. Côté makes films that are paced and intentionally layered with deeper meanings; every moment is measured and thoughtful, the product of a discordant artistic mind that crafts hypnotic films inviting us to immerse ourselves in these worlds, regardless of how harrowing their contents may be. The grainy aesthetic reflects the raw realism of the narrative, which focuses on a trio of hypersexual women undergoing psychological treatment (although their facilitators are vehemently opposed to this term, preferring to refer to it as “a journey”), but eventually being faced with a variety of obstacles, many of them taking root from the process of addressing one’s past and interrogating the experiences that got them to this point.

At its foundation, That Kind of Summer is a film about sexuality, with the director asking questions surrounding the role of desire in the lives of ordinary people. This is made abundantly clear in the first moments, when we are gradually introduced to the three main characters, each one of them expressing their sexual proclivity through distinct behavioural traits. However, this is not a film that aims to exploit the idea of sexuality on its own, but rather to view it in contrast with a range of other ideas that are not normally considered alongside it, with Côté crafting a fascinating tapestry of human existence through this very simple method of having three women interact with people supposedly hired to help them work through their addiction. That Kind of Summer endeavours to define sexuality as far more than just the expression of active desires, but rather the accumulation of a lifetime of impediments faced by each of these individuals. Côté places emphasis on the ambiguous intersections between psychological issues and the concept of lust, which is filtered through the often quite unsettling story of a group of professionals tasked with treating these women and allowing them the platform to work through their issues, only for it to be made clear that they are only there to purify the perverted souls of wayward women, curing them of inclinations that are perceived as inappropriate, while being confronted with their own existential demons in the process.

Throughout this 137-minute drama, there are many disparate ideas that gradually come together the more we engage with the narrative. Côté structures the film as an intimate character study, using the motif of a countryside estate far from prying eyes as the foundation for a deep exploration of human desire, through placing a small group of individuals in close proximity, where the innermost fears and anxieties of these women manifest as moments of genuine terror, often accompanying their frank and forthright discussions around sexuality. The film is propelled by the four central performances by Larissa Corriveau, Laure Giappiconi and Aude Mathieu (as the women participating in this experimental study) and Anne Ratte-Polle as the therapist tasked with observing and interviewing them, but who in reality is struggling with her own intimate problems. That Kind of Summer is built around these performances, since the film is primarily focused on defining different forms of femininity through these distinct characters, each one representing different forms of desire. This relates directly to the theme of the power dynamic between the women and their facilitator, with the gradual shift in their relationship contributing to the palpable tension that governs the film, especially when we start to see instances of the therapist becoming the patient in some ways, and vice versa. Like the film that surrounds them, the actors in That Kind of Summer are enigmatic and difficult to fully comprehend – but it only serves to make this an even more immersive experience, impelling us to look beneath the surface in an effort to decode exactly who these women are, making this film an even more engaging work of active existential artistry.

Both as a film and as a bundle of curious existential concepts that gradually intercept, That Kind of Summer is a challenge, but one that is extremely rewarding once we overcome the narrative obstacles. Côté crafts a film that is best described as a perplexing view of the human condition, using the concept of sexuality and desire as a way to explore various forms of trauma. This creates a narrative dissonance that the director is fully aware of, regularly making use of contrast to demonstrate the disparity between these themes. The pastoral beauty of the country estate in which the characters are momentary residents sharply contradicts the deep and unsettling internal themes that are evoked through the stark conversations of these characters, each plagued with unorthodox desires rooted in their distressing pasts, functioning less as the manifestation of their internal lust, but rather a mechanism to suppress the harrowing memories. That Kind of Summer has many deep and insightful ideas, but refuses to be overly academic, often making excellent use of atmosphere and tone to convey a particular message. It leads to a daring and provocative psychological drama that utilizes deeply disturbing images as a means to question the fundamental desires, insecurities and fears that make us unimpeachably, and sometimes even terrifyingly, human.