Sweating through an unusually hot Yorkshire summer, two young women at loose ends meet by chance and form an intense attachment that's destined to bring out hidden powers and vulnerabilities in both of them. Mona, who's played by the versatile newcomer Natalie Press, is a coarse-grained proletarian looker whose sullen vitality fascinates Tamsin (Emily Blunt), a coolly enigmatic beauty with a slight sneer hovering about her full lips. The gaping social divide between this unlikely pair of heavenly creatures becomes all too apparent when Tamsin invites Mona into her opulent home and plays the cello for her entranced new friend, identifying the music as Saint-Sans' "The Swan." To which Mona eagerly responds that she lives above The Swan, a rundown pub where her older brother Phil (In America's Paddy Considine), a former jailbird who has found Jesus, runs highly strung Bible-study and prayer sessions for impressionable locals.
For all its amused commentary on the girls' disparate social backgrounds, MySummerofLove, loosely adapted by director Pawel Pawlikowski and writer Michael Wynne from a far more intricately plotted novel by Helen Cross, is in no meaningful way a treatise on social class, any more than Pawlikowski's equally beguiling 2000 feature, LastResort, set in a holding camp for refugees, was about the plight of asylum seekers. A Polish filmmaker living in England, his sensibility owes little to the social realism of Mike Leigh or Ken Loach, still less to the black absurdism of Central European satire. Instead, this uncommonly original talent has home-grown a dreamily impressionistic aesthetic that mines the endless mysteries of the human soul through landscape and moody atmosphere. Pawlikowski is interested in the human psyche, and he wins multilayered performances from all his actors, but his approach to character is far from psychological. Eloquently shot by cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski, the movie unfolds through the shimmering golden haze of a remembered rural idyll, albeit one choked at the heart by poison ivy. The girls open up to one another—Mona's mother has died, and her brother's business with the Almighty has left her feeling ignored and alone, while Tamsin confides her grief over the loss of a beloved sister and the negligence of her self-absorbed parents. Press and Blunt play off one another beautifully. There's tenderness, even a heated if casually brought-off eros, between the two, but also a surging toxicity at once negated and reinforced by the lush surroundings. For so long as it feeds off a confluence of urgent need, the relationship seems to prosper. But as each girl ratchets up the vengeance she seeks on the other's behalf, the fragile bonds of reason and convention fray, and the dangerous liaison tips over into insidious mistrust.
Of all the British prizes lavished on MySummerofLove, the most apt was the Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature at last year's Edinburgh Film Festival. Like Powell, Pawlikowski marries creepy with funny—exhausted by his efforts to stifle his violent tendencies with unsullied goodness, Phil grows increasingly unhinged and cobbles together a huge cross that he and his down-at-heel disciples lug up a mountain. To call this movie a lesbian love story, or a coming-of-age movie, would be unforgivably reductive. Like Powell, Pawlikowski is attracted to the ungovernable passions that blunder through our fastidious social niceties and make asses of us all. MySummerofLoveis not just about the multitudes we all contain, but about the loving, murderous powers we bring out in each other, for better and worse. One girl eyes her prey with the intense but detached interest of a lepidopterist looking for the ideal place to stick in the pin; the other flails wildly in the growing awareness that she's been had. But tides must turn, and when all parties to this little crucible have been provoked into showing their true natures, there's a sudden, shocking, inordinately satisfying shift, and someone emerges into the dappled sunlight, ready for life.
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MY SUMMER OF LOVE WAS DIRECTED BY PAWEL PAWLIKOWSKI; WRITTEN BY PAWLIKOWSKI AND MICHAEL WYNNE, BASED ON THE NOVEL BY HELEN CROSS; PRODUCED BY TANYA SEGHATCHIAN AND CHRISTOPHER COLLINS. NOW PLAYING AT EDWARDS SOUTH COAST VILLAGE, SANTA ANA.