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  One Deadly Summer Vengeance is fine
Year: 1983
Director: Jean Becker
Stars: Isabelle Adjani, Alain Souchon, Suzanne Flon, Jenny Clève, Maria Machado, Evelyne Didi, Jean Gaven, François Cluzet, Manuél Gelin, Roger Carel, Michel Galabru, Marie-Pierre Casey, Cécil Vassort, Edith Scob
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  10 (from 1 vote)
Review: When stunning, nineteen year old Eliane (Isabelle Adjani) arrives in a small Provencal village, she draws attention from every man around. But it is timid fire-fighter Florimond (Alain Souchon), nicknamed “Pin-Pon”, whom Eliane chooses to date and she eventually comes to share a house with his kindly, deaf aunt (Suzanne Flon), disapproving mother (Jenny Clève) and brothers Mickey (François Cluzet) and Boubou (Manuél Gelin). When Eliane announces she is pregnant, Florimond arranges a hasty marriage, without knowing he has been duped. Eliane is using him as part of an elaborate scheme to track down and kill the three men who raped her German mother (Maria Machado).

One Deadly Summer, or L’Été meutrier to use its proper French title, found social realist filmmaker Jean Becker treading into Claude Chabrol territory, with resounding success. This remarkably unsettling, yet erotically charged thriller opens with the initially curious image of a man pushing a barrel organ across the countryside, through rain or shine. In fact, the organ plays a crucial role in one of the most harrowing episodes in the story: a rape scene that whilst mercifully not that explicit, remains among the most horrifically depicted onscreen, leaving the victim a shattered, screeching wreck. Becker depicts rural life in exuberant, but unsentimental detail: rife with earthy sexuality, vibrant characters and bonhomie. But beneath it all rests ugly emotions, prejudice and dark, disturbing secrets. Becker makes unique use of conflicting narrators. Events unfold from multiple perspectives, switching between Pin-Pon, Eliane and the seemingly senile, yet deeply humane Aunt Cognata. The film is not a conventional revenge saga in the manner of The Bride Wore Black (1967) and its countless imitators. Becker throws some unconventional twists and turns that cut a lot deeper as a psychological study-cum-tragedy.

Although the film is roundly well-acted by an outstanding cast, with stellar turns from singer-turned-actor Alain Souchon and a wholly engaging Suzanne Flon, by far its biggest asset is its leading lady. In a César award winning performance, Isabelle Adjani oozes sex appeal, but does so much more than smoulder seductively. At first Eliane seems nothing more than a brazen bimbo, flaunting herself around town in gossamer dresses. Gradually we discern she is a far more intelligent, poisonous and damaged young woman than anybody realises. Adjani makes Eliane a force of nature, as terrifying as she is irresistible. The very epitome of the femme fatale, but not evil, as her innermost thoughts reveal how conflicted she is. Her revenge scheme claims many innocent casualties, but succeeds only in destroying her own, already fragile psyche, which adds yet another layer to Adjani’s multifaceted performance. Beneath the brutality, Becker draws a tender, albeit deeply warped relationship between abused mother and daughter. In one of the film’s many unnerving scenes, the grown Eliane suckles at her mother’s breast.

The music, composed by Georges Delerue, is an integral part of the story, with a theme sung by the great Yves Montand. Interestingly, Becker repeated his use of a haunting musical motif in another film about a teen sexpot seeking revenge against the men who wronged her: Elisa (1995) starring Vanessa Paradis.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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