Summer Things (2002)

“It’s aggravated nymphomania.”

Holidays are about all about space. In our regular, non-holiday lives we create and occupy certain spaces on this planet that involve work, home, family, friends and responsibilities. Along with those issues comes the idea, weaved into various cultures, that we need breaks from the old routines, respite from the drudgery, and that renewal can be found by getting away from ‘it’ all and enjoying a new life on holiday. This holiday–it’s argued–gives a well-deserved and much needed breather from the stressful aspects of life. A little R&R and we’re refreshed and renewed–ready to jump back into the rat race. Well that’s the idea anyway, but as someone who spent many miserable holidays as a child of a constantly bickering married couple, as the saying goes: wherever you go, well there you are.

While some people escape successfully from their regular spaces (work & responsibilities) by creating an entirely new, idylllic and temporary life in a pleasant or exotic holiday environment, still others discover, the hard way, that taking their nearest and dearest off on holiday with them perpetuates the problems they had back at home. In fact, some families on holiday aggress on each other like rats in a tiny cage. Just recall the scene in European Vacation when the Griswold family are stuck for hours in a confined space, and note how quickly they get on each other’s nerves. Then again, some people on holiday are disinhibited by their new environments and get up to all sorts of things they wouldn’t dream of doing at home.

summer thingsSo this leads me to my interest in films which depict people unleashed on holiday. The French always depict this so well, and the films of Eric Rohmer often explore the things people get up to on their holidays, but in this instance, the film under review is Summer Things aka Embrassez Qui Vous Voudrez. The film is a very nasty, bitterly funny look at a bunch of people who go on holiday and discover…well…an assortment of things.

When the film begins, affluent couple Bertrand and Elizabeth Lannier (Jacques Dutronc & Charlotte Rampling) are planning their annual vacation at a swanky hotel. Their friends, Jerome (Denis Podalydes) and Veronique (Karin Viard) who have substantially less income, plan on joining them there, in spite of the fact they can ill afford this indulgence. On the brink of bankruptcy, Jerome doesn’t have the energy to tell Veronique and teenage son Loic (Gaspard Ulliel) they can’t afford to go, and so he hobbles together a vacation which includes a tiny little caravan a few miles away from the hotel. Veronique, who’s locked into a losing competition over material wealth with the Lanniers, is mainly an hysterical, accusatory mess, expecting Jerome to “fix” the problems have. He copes by salvaging meters and ignores impending disaster with hopes that their house will sell.

In the meantime, Elizabeth invites free-spirited Julie (Clotilde Courau) along for a free holiday. Since this means that she’ll bring along her neglected baby, Bertrand elects to stay home. He’d rather keep his space at home than trade it in for a holiday suite with his wife, Julie (his one-time lover) and her baby. While the Lanniers plan their holiday, their wild daughter, Emilie (Lou Doillon) elects to go to Chicago supposedly with a girlfriend.

An assortment of unpleasant, troubled people converge on the swanky Westminster hotel–there’s slimy lounge lizard Maxime (Vincent Elbaz) whose goal is to nail every woman in sight, and then there’s another married couple,  the violently jealous Jean Pierre (writer and director Michel Blanc) and Lulu (Carole Bouquet). Lulu’s idea is to get a bit of peace and quiet, but with Jean Pierre breathing down her neck, that proves to be impossible.  What ensues is a French domestic farce on a grand scale and involving multiple couples as they try and “enjoy” their holidays. What the couples discover is they really need a break from each other….

The film is fast-paced but perfectly timed, with pithy nasty comments flying through the air as couples bicker and friends lob snide, yet subtle barbs at one another. Veronique, for example, is horribly embarrassed when Elizabeth greets her bitchily commenting on Veronique’s well-worn clothes, but the comments are too subtle for Veronique to catch except to flag and underscore the difference in material wealth: “She got three weeks in Bali. I got pizza and a quickie in a car.”

For about 9/10 of the film, it’s wildly funny but fizzles right at the end. But if you like your comedy mean, nasty, and savagely funny, then there’s a good chance you’ll really enjoy Summer Things, but don’t expect ‘inspiring‘ or ‘uplifting’; this is human nature at its worst. That said, it’s one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a long time.

I’ve included some of this film’s great lines:

“Drive this shit heap to a hotel.”

“Not easy living with a nympho.”

“Take your proposal and shove it. I’m like you. I get laid and move on.”

“I threw up and a tuna hit my balls.”

“I’d turn tricks, but I can’t afford a g-string.”

 “Just a quickie in the elevator. No big deal.”


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