My Summer of Love (2004)
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Screenwriter: Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring: Natalie Press, Emily Blunt, Paddy Considine
Taking a retrospective look at Pawel Pawlikowski’s first English language outing My Summer of Love is like peering into the machinations of the great auteur’s most recent outings, this romantic drama set amongst the hills of the Yorkshire countryside featuring many of the director’s current trademarks and being perhaps even more indicative of the filmmaker’s rich list of influences than any of his work since. My Summer of Love really feels like a look back into the spring of a great career.
Pawlikowski’s most recent work Cold War – an entry into The Film Magazine’s 100 Greatest Films of the 2010s – was one notably influenced by the great works of Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker; Solaris), and early signs of this powerful influence are present in My Summer of Love. Thematically, Pawlikowski offers his own vastly important (in terms of understanding his work) ruminations on religion, while shooting some moments of performance with an almost inherent ability to capture a face just as the great Russian director had done. In Natalie Press, Pawlikowski finds his most photographable hero, a woman without many a facial feature to note, a blank canvas for the filmmaker to paint with story, the mise-en-scene and his management of her inevitably intelligent performance.
In contrast, the defining features of a young Emily Blunt are used to visually oppose Press’s most stunning qualities, Blunt’s pouted lips, darker and noticeably bouncier hair, painting a picture of a defining opposite in physicality to the hero; one that Pawlikowski uses as an indicator as to the many differences that the two characters hold, each defined by (in excess of everything else) wealth.
Indeed, Blunt’s Tamsin is so in opposition to Press’s Mona that she is introduced as if born of sunlight, shot from the below point of view of Mona as she rides horse-back through the Yorkshire countryside, her face coming into focus as her head blocks out the sun. The majestic horse is instantly contrasted with Mona’s own engine-less moped as the duo ride down hill together; a moment indicative of not only the vast differences in wealth that shall come to define many aspects of their relationship, but one that through the use of transport paints a picture of Mona being out of control of her descent downhill into the relationship as Tamsin remains entirely in control of the beast she descends with.
In My Summer of Love, the indication is always that Mona’s life shall forever be changed by what is to Tamsin a summer fling. Mona is tied to her locality, whereas Tamsin is there for just a brief moment before returning to boarding school, and as the narrative unravels discrepancies in Tamsin’s stories, so comes to the light the difference in severity that one summer of love can have for a person confined to a life of poverty and struggle, and one free of financial restriction. Indeed, the title in of itself tells of this inevitability, but watching it unravel in conjunction with themes of abuse and religious persecution is truly extraordinary.
Pawlikowski’s work has never seemed so light on the surface as in My Summer of Love, but to those familiar with his work it will be no surprise that the true focus of this English language debut lies in the darkness hiding beneath. Aside from the reliable experience of Paddy Considine as Mona’s brother Phil, Press and Blunt are almost entirely alone for the whole film, and as such Pawlikowski is able to paint onto them a series of opposites that define them amongst the thematic explorations of his narrative and visual storytelling, the duo becoming as much at one with the existential intention of the piece as they are individuals worthy of connecting to in their own right.
My Summer of Love ponders; who are we to love? To expect anything extraordinary for ourselves? And, in doing so, it challenges the status quo of romantic idealism in every way that it possibly can, from gender to wealth, physical appearance to location. This is truly a phenomenal, way-too-often overlooked entry into the canon of British film and indeed the director’s own filmography; a story of love and all of the existentialism that comes with it from one of the greatest working in the industry today.