Conte d'Été

in 74th Venice International Film Festival

by Massimo Lechi

It’s rare to see a filmmaker—an artist—lose himself in his own world, in his own obsessions. It’s a rare experience, at the same time deeply unsettling and surprisingly rewarding. When this happens, as viewers—as cultural consumers—we can choose between two different approaches, two different attitudes: rejection and acceptance.

The first is the easiest: no risks, no headaches. The second is a whole different story, because it implies trust, patience and some recklessness. To trust a director who, more or less unconsciously, is pushing his cinema to the limits can be like venturing into an unknown territory—possibly an unpleasant one. Plus, there is an undeniable difference between witnessing a shipwreck from the distance and standing on the deck while the ship is actually sinking.

This slightly didactic premise of mine leads of course to a conclusion: there are films you need to feel and live, there are films whose nature you need to welcome and accept. And Abdellatif Kechiche’s Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno, which premiered in competitionat the 74th Venice Film Festival to mixed reviews, is certainly one of them.

Set in southern France in 1994, the new controversial coming-of- age story by the director of Blue is the Warmest Colour (La Vie d’Adèle: Chapitres 1&2) focuses on Amin (Shaïn Boumedine), a Paris-based young man who has just dropped out of university to pursue a career in screenwriting. Back in his hometown for the summer holidays, he has the chance to reconnect with all the main characters of his childhood: his determined mother Dédé (Delinda Kechiche, the director’s sister), who runs the family restaurant, his cousin Tony (Salim Kechiouche), a serial womanizer, and last but not least Ophélie (Ophélie Bau), whom he has always secretly loved.

It’s the beginning of a conte d’été where nothing seems to happen, except life itself—therefore everything is happening. Kechiche and his brave cinematographer Marco Graziaplena follow Amin at the beach, in bars and discos. Through his point of view—the point of view of an artist in embryo still searching for a purpose and a voice—we see what he doesn’t have the courage to fully experience: life unfolding itself in crowded cafés, beauty burning its magnificence in pointless chatting and never-ending dances. We see attractive bodies, glorified female bodies exploding across the screen. We see big breasts and buttocks aplenty, demanding the camera’s attention.

They represent love, passion, desire, joy, energy: they are powerful presences, mysterious forces of attraction, elusive (at least for the Apollonian protagonist) worlds in motion. As a detached and immature observer, Amin witnesses this ephemeral triumph of youth, while Kechiche—his restless creator—stresses his own directorial style and imagery in a glorious, thrilling and deeply contradictory attempt to reach the core, to film what cannot be filmed.

A flawed masterpiece, Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno—first part of a trilogy whose second chapter will hopefully come out next year—requires viewers willing to let themselves go, to sink in an unstable cinematic magma. Take it or leave it.

Edited by Neil Young