Berlinale 2024 review: My Summer with Irène (Carlo Sironi)

“A breezy watch that highlights the beauty of Sicily and the talents of one of the best young actresses currently working.”

Five years after his debut feature Sole premiered in the Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti section to acclaim, Carlo Sironi arrives in the Berlinale’s youth-oriented Generation 14plus sidebar with his follow-up feature My Summer with Irène (Quell’estate con Irène), a delicate story of two teenage girls who spend a summer together in late 1990s Sicily, trying to discover who they are as they approach womanhood. At a summer camp for children diagnosed with or recovering from cancer, 17-year-old Clara (Maria Camilla Brandenburg) meets Irène (Noée Abita), a French camper around her own age who is also in remission from her illness. Despite their opposite personalities – soft-spoken Clara fades into the background and hides from her fellow campers while Irène proves more adventurous and mischievous than her quiet demeanour lets on – the two girls quickly become close friends. After Irène receives some bad news from her mother she impulsively persuades Clara to leave the camp and spend the rest of the summer hiding out in a Sicilian seaside town in a rented house. There, the girls engage in typical teenage activities: sunbathing on the beach, hanging out with other teens, experiencing their romantic awakenings, and exploring the town with the aid of their camcorder.

The film follows many of the beats of a typical coming-of-age story, and while it is refreshing to see a story of friendship between teenage girls that isn’t derailed by petty conflicts or shared attraction to the same guy, the screenplay feels too underpowered even for the film’s slender 90-minute runtime. Clara and Irène’s burgeoning friendship at camp feels rushed, so it is initially a relief to see the film relax into following the girls around the Sicilian seaside as mundane moments leave a huge impression on them, but the film ultimately suffers from the aimlessness of its screenplay. Even the introduction of elements that should give it some stakes – a local group of teens who provide objects of affection for our two heroines, or Irène’s worsening symptoms – don’t generate much momentum, and the film ends on a quiet note that doesn’t leave a lot of impact. Ultimately one can’t help but think that this would have been more effective as a short film. Another issue is the character of Clara – she goes beyond being a typical wallflower and is instead so shy and recessive that she often fades into the background of scenes even when she is the main focus of them, and while Maria Camilla Brandenburg is perfectly competent in essaying this role, she only becomes a compelling screen presence when Clara finally displays more confidence in the final stretch of the film.

As Irène, however, Noée Abita (performing confidently in Italian) proves once again, after excellent performances in Ava, Slalom, and The Passengers of the Night, that she is one of the most promising members of the new generation of French actresses. Despite her petite frame and soft voice, she is a magnetic screen presence and has an off-kilter charisma that makes the viewer understand why Clara would follow her on their summer adventure, and why the group of local teens are drawn to her. Irène is a thinly-sketched character, but Abita makes her every move fascinating to watch, and the highlight of the film is seeing Irène take pleasure in her friendship with Clara and the opportunity to explore the island and reinvent herself for the locals, shedding her identity as a sick and isolated girl. She’s impetuous and mischievous yet warm and loyal, and one cannot help but wish that Abita had a more complex character and better-developed screenplay to work with so that she could show off the full depth of her talents.

While My Summer with Irène doesn’t bring anything new to the coming-of-age genre and doesn’t realize the full potential of its story, it is a breezy watch that highlights the beauty of Sicily and the talents of one of the best young actresses currently working.