"Like an old rock song that used to be a favorite and now sounds past its prime, or an apartment that used to be swinging and now badly needs a paint job and new furniture, watching Philippe Garrel's That Summer has a sweet retro taste of the Nouvelle Vague that soon turns insipid," begins Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. "Set in present-day Paris and Rome and, gasp, shot in color, this drama of two couples (one separates, the other doesn't) is dramatically lifeless and uninvolving. Fans of Garrel, a two-time Silver Lion winner in Venice for directing I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar and Regular Lovers, may enjoy the self-reference of topliners Louis Garrel and Monica Bellucci, who play off their iconic images, but there isn't much more to pin down even specialized audiences."
Overall, "a dispiritingly tepid experience," agrees Jonathan Romney in Screen. "The film begins promisingly, and atmospherically, with a young man, Frédéric (Garrel) pacing about moodily, before taking a late night drive that ends with a dramatic crash — after which narrator Paul [Jérôme Robart] reveals in voice-over that Frédéric has died, in what was clearly a suicide bid. Intercut with this is what must count as the film's money shot — a long take of a naked Bellucci, reclining like Manet's Olympia, gesturing alluringly to camera (or rather, to Frédéric, apparently resisting her invitation). Paul's intermittent narration establishes how he, a struggling actor, came to know Frédéric, a painter living in Rome with his wife Angèle (Bellucci), a film actress. Paul himself scores a bit part on a war drama about the French Resistance — nicely evoked in a tight pastiche that's among the film's better sequences — on which he clicks romantically with another performer, Elisabeth [Céline Sallette]."
"The only performer here who provides anything to watch is Céline Sallette, as the girlfriend of Garrel's best pal," finds Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek. She has the face of a real person, which makes her seem like an alien in this atmosphere of idiocy and self-absorption. Even Belluci, normally a sultry presence, is just a drag. But Louis Garrel is the worst. Garrel has made a career out of playing bored youths who appear to be entranced by their own good looks, and he'd better find a new schtick fast. So what if he looks like a Roman god? That doesn't mean he has to act like one."
"Let's put it this way," suggests Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist. "A Scorching Summer is the kind of film where the line, 'Fidelity is an outdated, petit-bourgeois concept' is said with a straight face."
"For every boo heard at the press screening," notes Domenico La Porta at Cineuropa, where he also interviews Philippe Garrel, "somewhere — on the terraces of the Villaggio Del Cinema, in the queues or in the seated rows of the press conference — there is an impassioned conversation about the film and its actors…. That Summer belongs to another era and a different way of making films. The director admits it himself: he makes films for art's sake and cares little about the public's response."
"[T]his partially wistful but mostly messy effort will appeal to Garrel completists, if such people still exist," writes Boyd van Hoeij in Variety. "For the record, the film was reportedly inspired by the death of a friend of Garrel's, as well as by Godard's Contempt, which also deals with an impossibly beautiful woman, relationship troubles and jealousy. Press materials refer to the film as That Summer, though the onscreen title was A Scorching Summer, a literal translation of the French moniker."
By the way, In Contention's Guy Lodge walked out. "There was little reason to stay: Garrel had already written his own best review early on with the line, 'All that dead beauty is so uninspiring.' Word."
Update, 9/7: The New Yorker's Richard Brody notes that, in a piece for Libération by Olivier Séguret, "Garrel suggests that, in the mythology of modern art, the story of Contempt holds the same sacred place and inexhaustible power as the Annunciation does for the classics. That's not exactly news, since we knew it; it's news that Garrel says so."
Update, 9/12: "Garrel's exquisitely realized film… is being referred to as a spin on Godard's Contempt," begins Fandor's Kevin B Lee. "But as a film about filmmaking, what Garrel has to say is more deeply embedded in a dark view of 21st century French culture at large, where social activism is but a shell of its 60s heyday and French filmmaking has succumbed to pan-European commercialism."
For Fernando F Croce, writing at the House Next Door, the film "lingers both as a tangle of stagnant and fluid yearning and as an intriguing meta-subversion of movie romance, with established stars (Louis Garrel's hipster listlessness is by now as much of a familiar art-house staple as Bellucci's Mediterranean sex bomb) openly outclassed by bit players (Robart and Sallette, who had previously had tiny roles in Regular Lovers, also play aspiring actors here). Though shot in swanky color, the film retains the alternately trying and invigorating starkness of the director's recent, black-and-white efforts."
That Summer is competing in Venice and will be a Special Presentation in Toronto. If you're headed to Toronto, tiffr is a simple yet powerful way to schedule your festival. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.