A mismatched couple upset blissful family life in Catherine Breillat’s Last Summer, playing at the London Film Festival.
Director Catherine Breillat appears to have been tempted out of a long period of cinematic inactivity to create Last Summer (L’été dernier), a film which, in addition to showing at LFF, also screened at Cannes, New Zealand, and Toronto Film Festivals this year.
Starring Léa Drucker as children’s lawyer Anne, and newcomer Samuel Kircher as her stepson Théo, Last Summer depicts the period of time when the troubled teenager comes to live with his father, stepmother, and two younger half-sisters, hoping for a period of stability in his life. But the comfortable image of happy families is disturbed as the relationship between mother and stepson takes a more intimate turn.
The film is actually a remake of the 2019 Danish film Queen of Hearts. For those who saw that version, the overriding feeling was shockingly ice-cold and left the viewer squirming (deliberately) at the outcome. Breillat’s French adaptation asks slightly different questions about the emotional background of the relationship and Anne, although still ruthless in places, seems more vulnerable that her Danish counterpart. Supported by an enviably flawless wardrobe in shades of cream, Léa Drucker maintains her cool exterior, while her internal decision-making works overtime.
Debutant Samuel Kirchner, who inherited the role from his originally-cast brother Paul, is the epitome of the surly teen who thinks he is wiser and more grown-up than he actually is, and who eventually realises that he is not as in control as he imagined.
Whether this slightly more emotional remake of an already challenging premise was worth Breillat coming out of retirement will be up to the individual – although I have a feeling that if you have seen the original, you can happily skip this.
Last Summer plays at the London Film Festival from 7th October 2023.