Film Review: Au Revoir l’Eté

By Xi Lu

Compared to his avant-garde French new-wave peers, Eric Rohmer seemed to direct in a different key: All those casually chic young heroines photographed in the more attractive parts of France, all those stories about their various love troubles.

Koji Fukada makes reference in his summer-at-the-beach drama “Hotori no Sakuko (Au Revoir l’Eté),” to a French title that references Rohmer’s 1996 film “Conte d’Eté (A Summer’s Tale).” The spirit of Rohmer blows like a head-clearing breeze through every frame of Au revoir l’été, the new ensemble romantic drama from the Japanese director Koji Fukada. August is turning into September, and Sakuko, a thoughtful, pretty, button-bright 18-year-old girl, is spending a week with her aunt Mikie in a resort town by the coast. At home she was preparing for her university entrance exams, but she finds her aunt and her friends and acquaintances wrestling with problems that cannot be revised for: split loyalties, thwarted romance, tested friendships. We discover that Mikie used to work an ethnographer in Indonesia, and Sakuko marvels at the strength of spirit that job would demand, but really she is a girl after her aunt’s heart, as she dips her toes into this unfamiliar group of people and discovers what makes them tick.

Great, you think: so far, so Pauline at the Beach. (Or Conte d’été, or The Collector, or Le Rayon Vert) an irresistible mix of the fresh and the familiar.

This film has won several prizes including winner of the best film prize at the Nantes Three Continents Festival and the best director award at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. Scripted by Fukada, the characters of the heroines are very Japanese, such as Sakuko, who has failed her university entrance exams and is girding for another try, and her aunt Mikie, a university professor who is house-sitting for her sister at a seaside town.

Fukada is more interested in the pain, masks are removed and bad memories are revived. He is less interested, in labeling them as heroes or villains.

However, what they are really looking for, we see, is a clue to their future; especially Takashi, who has come to hate his assigned role as “nuclear victim.”

The film will make this summer more than just bike rides and beach walks and a bit of a crush on a younger guy. This being a Rohmer based film, that something can’t be summed up in a word. One takeaway: Even lovers of truth need secrets.

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