Locarno 2021 review: Our Eternal Summer (Emilie Aussel)

Our Eternal Summer belongs to a particular subgenre of French cinema: movies depicting teenagers who are trying to figure out how they will invent their lives, while spending time with their friends in the summertime, at the beach, in nightclubs, in bedrooms. Even though Abdellatif Kechiche has left a distinctive mark on the genre through the last decade with Blue is the Warmest Colour and his saga Mektoub, My Love, it is mostly a field for newcomers making their first feature film on the topic of first life experiences. Such is the case with director Emilie Aussel, except for the fact that in Our Eternal Summer death strikes suddenly and unexpectedly, putting a brutal stop to the characters’ plans and dreams for now and later.

Inseparable Lise and Lola (played by newcomers Agathe Talrich and Marcia Feugeas) are spending the summer of their eighteenth birthdays together, along with their group of friends, on a beach in the Mediterranean town of Marseille, when one evening Lola does not resurface after one last swim. On that ill-fated day spent on a beach wearing a name heavy with symbolism (the “Beach of the Prophet”), Lise and the rest of their group go from feeling immortal to knowing they are sheer mortals in a flash – just like in M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film Old, it is a beach that makes you age extremely fast, though not through the means of science fiction but by a bitter and far too real twist of fate.

From that day forward all their previous troubles and uncertainties seem so trivial compared to the terrifying knowledge that your life could possibly end, having done only one percent of what you aspired to. The original French title, much tougher, puts forth this tipping point between one condition and the other: ‘L’été l’éternité‘, ‘Summer Eternity’. All of a sudden these teens who thought they owned the summer have to face a cold eternity and must find the answers to learn how to live through it by themselves – there were no adults to start with in the film, and they do not appear as if by magic when so dearly needed. From this point on the film lingers a lot, stuck in a state of apathy that feels only partly voluntary (it is indeed the point of the story), and also somehow drifting away from the director’s control.

Still, another strong idea emerges in Our Eternal Summer: that Lise and her fellow adults-in-the-making form a secret society of grieving teens, each of them thinking he or she is alone before encountering others who share their condition (and thus telling the camera – and the audience – about their hidden pain, like in a confessional, as they think no one else can listen). This is true of two people Lise bumps into by chance, who by taking her in gift her with two things: a home, and a glimpse of how to fight back against the overwhelming anxiety they endure constantly. They practice theater, which the film combines in its climax with another art (music, performed like the rest of the soundtrack by the electronic duo Postcoïtum), to create an intensely lively scene, like an exorcism repelling sorrow and opening a door towards the possibility of going on with your life.