SUMMER OF 85: More than a ‘Call Me By Your Name’ Clone

I’ve never managed to review a François Ozon film without speaking, at length, about how he is one of the few truly chameleonic directors working. And, unfortunately for those of you crying out for me to offer any original insight, that isn’t going to be changing here, as the director who followed his sleazy De Palma riff (Double Lover) with a sobering, Spotlight style account into child abuse in the French Catholic Church (By the Grace of God) has taken yet another unexpected genre detour.

An arthouse YA adaptation

On the surface of it, a gay coming of age story like Summer of 85 doesn’t feel like an outlier in the director’s filmography, with several LGBTQ films and sexual discovery narratives already under his belt. In fact, the mainstream, achingly nostalgic qualities of his latest effort have already led many to label this one of his weaker recent works, not just as it’s a less explicit variation on similar stories he’s told before, but also due to the superficial similarities it shares with another recent 80’s set queer coming of age film, set somewhere in neighbouring Northern Italy.

SUMMER OF 85: More than a Call Me By Your Name Clone
source: Curzon Artificial Eye

But this is once again overlooking Ozon’s ability to bend to seemingly any genre that takes his fancy, with Summer of 85 representing an unexpected foray into the YA genre – an adaptation of a beloved 80’s teen novel that may have not brought that period setting forward to the present day but still ticks every box for a contemporary young adult story. By which I mean, this is a film with two things on its mind: first love, and the fear of death, two things any YA film post-Twilight has needed to captivate its younger, emotionally confused audience. Ozon knows he’s late to the YA adaptation party, and Summer of 85 proudly, defiantly wears its uncool status on its sleeve throughout. Maybe this is why his film stands as one of the best in that genre.

Félix Lefebvre stars as Alexis, a 16-year-old who lives in a French seaside town. One day, he has a boating accident, which is where he meets David (Benjamin Voisin), an 18-year-old with whom he is immediately smitten. The pair started hanging out more, and for Alexis, this quickly turns into first love. But we know this can’t end well for the pair before we even see them together, as we are introduced to our protagonist waiting for his court hearing following David’s death, putting rainclouds over their relationship before we see it blossom.

A gloriously uncool depiction of first love

As you’d expect, the comparisons to Call Me By Your Name have come in thick and fast, and aren’t warranted on anything beyond a superficial level. If anything, Ozon’s film feels like a deliberate response to that hazy, nostalgic look at the worst decade in history for gay men – the period style of Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer dancing to the Psychedelic Furs has been replaced by multiple scenes of our protagonist going crazy for Rod Stewart’s ballad “Sailing”, to name one example as to why. The nostalgia here is from the perspective of a young man looking back at his first love, and how that helped him realise his identity. Ozon does not afford that same rose-tinted view to the era around them.

SUMMER OF 85: More than a Call Me By Your Name Clone
source: Curzon Artificial Eye

On the surface, it seems like another similarity between this film and Luca Guadagnino’s beloved Oscar nominee would be the likelihood of generating discourse on the age gap between the couple. In this case, there’s only a slight age gap of two years, but one that the film’s detractors would likely say highlights the power imbalance due to both characters being in their teens. But again, this seems to be the point Ozon is making; the older of the two is less sensitive, and less intuitive to his emotions, causing ripples in their blossoming summer love. To understand first love, you also have to understand first heartbreak – and that becomes even more crucial to the story than the pair getting together.

Because beneath the sun-kissed period setting and the left turn towards melodrama, there’s something far more relatable about Ozon’s approach to accepting your sexuality and finding your first love. It’s one of the few coming of age love stories that manages to be equal parts swooningly romantic, and yet in full possession of foresight that of course this isn’t built to last forever – but when you get your first taste of romance, you don’t care that you’ve become embarrassing and lost your common sense. And why would you? You’ve finally got a boyfriend.


Although not a major work in Francois Ozon’s filmography, Summer of 85 is still one of the best coming of age stories in recent memory – an affecting tale of first love and first heartbreak, all rolled into one.

Summer of 85 is released in the UK via Curzon on Demand on October 23.

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