My Summer of Love

June 23rd, 2005 Film, Film Reviews, Personalities, Xpress

Directed By Pawel Pawlikowski

Starring Natahlie Press, Emily Blunt, Paddy Considine.

‘Acting’ means pretending to be someone you’re not as a profession. Today’s acting landscape seems to be more about creating caricatures for pre-packaged entertainment brands, and the personalities that comprise the big business movie industry are only part of it.

It’s hard to imagine a Schwarzenegger role where Arnie cries to his therapist because he feels out of control over his life; we expect him to saddle up with a middy gun in hand and not only get his life in control but that of the enemy base/village full of commie sympathizers/corrupt elites.

Any actor who has the economic power to open a movie (those with their names are above the title) is a brand name no different than Coke, Microsoft or Nike. As such, they work by brand association. The Bruce Willis brand is an everyday Joe devoted to his family who doesn’t mind using a John Wayne swagger and busting heads practicality to get things done. The Tom Cruise brand is one of similar heroism but with an ‘everyone wants my life’, Calvin Klein-esque sex appeal.

Which is why it’s a pleasure to see such a high quality film like My Summer of Love with little known leads who come with no such character expectations and free us from always waiting for the real Arnie, Tom, Mel or Russ to show up and do what we know they will.

Sometimes the inexperience and discomfort of unknowns shows, but in director Pawlikowski’s hands, newcomers Press and Blunt shine like the dreamy, fragrant sunlight that infuses so many of the scenes.

To star Nathalie Press, who plays the antisocial Mona, My Summer of Love represented a certain stage in the evolution of an actor. ‘I think [the naivete] really helped me give a good performance,’ Press says during her Australian publicity tour. ‘You hear about a band’s first album being their best because there’s a purity about the way they approach the work. My Summer of Love was the same; I was very raw I can really see why they’d cast complete unknowns.’

Whether it’s luck, talent or a bit of both, Press has caused major ripples despite her newbie status. My Summer of Love won a BAFTA on its release, and her previous film, the short Wasp, went on to the Oscars. This from an actress who still remembers the agony of being one of the millions of struggling novices. ‘The audition was a very big deal for me because I hadn’t done very much,’ she recalls, ‘just a couple of days here and there on TV. I’d never played a lead.’

So now, Press has her sights set firmly on bigger things. She doesn’t hesitate when asked if she hopes her notoriety from My Summer of Love leads to a high profile Hollywood career. ‘For sure,’ she says enthusiastically. ‘I respect the production values of American filmmaking and I have a lot of ambition to be taken seriously by American directors. Having done indy projects I do yearn for the high production glossy values.’

Press insists she’s keeping it real, and as Mona in Pawlikowski’s lush story about how the grass looks greener no matter what side you inhabit, it’s about as real as you can get.

Press and co-star Blunt’s performances are more natural than most Hollywood actors can muster in a whole career. Mona lives in a sleepy and picturesque Welsh village where her life seems to be a dead end. Almost without exception the film takes a dim view of men, from Mona’s ‘boyfriend’ (who takes her out in his car for backseat sex and dumps her when she starts coming on too strong), to her brother, ex crim Phil (Considine, the only recognizable face in the movie), now a born again Christian whose acceptance of the Lord is laced with not a small amount of desperation and who we suspect is merely lost finding his identity.

Left to her own devices, Mona makes her own fun until she comes across rich girl Tamsin (Blunt), who lives in a palatial home surrounded by an indifferent family and who represents the first thing Mona’s had to a true friend in what feels like a long time.

The two girls become inseparable friends and erstwhile lovers, and watching Mona let go of her guarded self is a pleasure to watch. Together the girls embark on their own fantasy world of love and justice not unlike the bond between Pauline and Juliet in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures.

The story builds to a shattering conclusion but in Pawlikowski’s hands the film as a whole is a visual work of art. The British Isles summer is captured beautifully as Pawlikowski makes inspiring use of sunlight, backlighting many scenes with it and drizzling a golden and organic quality throughout the movie.

No matter which way you look at it; whether at the performances, the casting, the locations, the film medium as painter’s canvas or a coming of age story that captures the agony and joy of human connections (and lack of them), My Summer of Love is a beautiful movie.

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