The Summer's Sexiest Film Is Also the Most Powerful

Summertime is not your typical summer hit about sex and love.

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There are two love stories in writer and director Catherine Corsini's Summertime. Playing out against the blonde wheat fields of the French countryside and the cobblestone avenues and tiny apartments of Paris, both are passionate and both defy inflexible and harmful social mores. The heroines of Corsini's film are Delphine, the young daughter of farmers, and Carole, an outspoken intellectual leading the Parisian feminist movement. Set mostly in the spring and summer of 1971, Summertime is about Delphine and Carole's intense love affair and, ultimately, achieving self-love.

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Carole (Cécile de France) and Delphine (Izïa Higelin) fall in love while protesting for women's rights in 1970s France.

The Beginning of a Summer of Love

Delphine has always been conscious of her attraction to other women. Realizing that she cannot live openly as a lesbian in her parents' farming community, she moves to Paris and rents a closet-sized apartment with a sink and a hot plate for a kitchen. There, Delphine has a chance encounter with several women's rights activists, led by Carole, who are running down the sidewalk grabbing men's asses as a form of guerrilla revenge for years of street harassment.

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Delphine begins joining the women in their discussions on reproductive rights and helps them plan public protests that frequently break the law. For a country girl who has watched her mother do backbreaking labor for no income, the fervor and independence of her new friends is intoxicating.

"[I]t was very important that the physical aspect of [Delphine and Carole's] relationship be shown in a way that was very beautiful, that these were women who were very much in love." — Catherine Corsini, writer and director of Summertime

When Carole and Delphine begin sleeping together, the relationship is a first for both of them. Having kept her inner life secret for so long, Delphine is enamored of Carole's fearlessness. For her part, Carole has never been in a relationship with another woman but becomes frustrated by Delphine's unwillingness to be open with her family about her sexuality. When Carole visits Delphine and her parents in the countryside, the differences in their ambitions—Delphine's hope to run her family's farm, Carole's dreams of giving women more political choices—drives a wedge in their passionate affair.

Carole visits Delphine in the country, bringing a whirlwind of political papers and flyers with her.
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On the eve of Summertime's release in the United States, Sweet hopped on the phone with French filmmaker Catherine Corsini to discuss the making of her sexy new film, how Carole and Delphine are part of French feminist history, and why their relationship is so romantic.

Why did you set Summertime in 1971, when the French feminist movement was in its infancy?

The start of this movement marks the moment when there was a sense of everyone thinking about the condition of women, and what was happening at that moment for them, for the first time. It's important to note here that there wasn't just one single kind of feminism; there were many issues that were being debated and discussed. There were also many oppositions between some of the feminist groups, but all of that was reflective of the larger feminist movement that really began at that time.

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"I didn't want to make caricatures of these women."

When you look at Delphine's family, her mother manages the farm just as much as her father does, but her mother has no real ownership and no personal income. Is this a situation you grew up witnessing?

It wasn't my personal reality, but this was actually the experience of a very close friend of mine and her family. She was the daughter of a farmer, and she remembered that her mother really had no rights. Although she was working on the farm just as much as her husband was, she herself was never considered a farmer. It was almost as if she was an employee of her husband, although she had no checkbook of her own and no paycheck.

Carole looks behind her, desperate for Delphine to choose a life in Paris over helping her parents.

Delphine and Carole have had such different upbringings and are at different places in their lives. Why do you think they're so attracted to each other?

I think that's the very reason they're attracted to each other. Among homosexuals, there's a misconception that you'll be attracted to someone who is like yourself. In fact, it's really more typical that you are attracted to someone who is not like you are. I think that's exactly what was taking place there, where you have one woman, Carole, who is very intellectual, and then you have Delphine, who is much more representative of the working class.

Monique, Delphine's mother, and Carole have a tense conversation about the true nature of Delphine and Carole's relationship.

I like that the film really pushes against the viewer's instinct to judge Delphine for wanting to manage her parents' farm instead of only engaging in Carole's armchair feminism.

I didn't want to make caricatures of these women. Their choices weren't exactly black-and-white choices. When Delphine chooses to stay at the farm, to really keep the farm going, it's her own feminist choice. I hope that after some time she would also learn to live her own emotional life openly, to accept herself as a homosexual. It takes time for those kinds of things to develop in a person's life. What I wanted here in the film was that she not be punished for the decisions that she makes and Carole not be totally applauded for the decisions that she makes, because it's a much more complex issue.

"[T]his is the first time that I've really dealt with the subject of homosexuality in a sincere way. This is a love story, and I think that, partly, it's a reflection of what is happening in my own life."

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What has the reaction to the film been like at home?

The press have been absolutely magnificent. I think the public was divided in the way they viewed the film. The homophobia in France really came out during the debate over gay marriage that took place last year. I think that for some people it was very hard to watch. For others, it was something that helped to reinforce the message that they were trying to bring. I think that France really, in this regard, is very backward in terms of how it views homosexuality and gay marriage.

Throughout the film, Delphine is courted by her childhood friend, Antoine, whom her father urges her to marry.

I've read that this is the first film you've done about a lesbian relationship.

It's true that this is the first time that I've really dealt with the subject of homosexuality in a sincere way. This is a love story, and I think that, partly, it's a reflection of what is happening in my own life. It's the first time that I really wanted to be more forthcoming and open about the relationship that I myself have entered into with another woman, who is also the producer of this film. In a sense, it's my coming-out film, but it also shows that this kind of loving relationship can be something that allows the partners to flourish and can be very loving and beautiful.

Was this subject a new territory for the actors as well? What kinds of conversations did you have with them about making the sex scenes feel very authentic?

My partner and I had the opportunity to be very up-front about our own relationship with the actresses and the entire crew. Right now there's a great deal of homophobia in France, and we felt that by being open, and by having everyone aware of what we were trying to convey, they became the standard-bearers for the message that we wanted to deliver.

It's not all so cerebral. Delphine and Carole spend most of their time goofing around.

Any nude scene in a film is very complicated to do, because there's a conflict between the actors' desire to do their best to tell this story and maybe a little bit of shyness. I tried to help them see that it was very important that the physical aspect of [Delphine and Carole's] relationship be shown in a way that was very beautiful, that these were women who were very much in love, to get to show something of the fervor of the relationship and the luminosity of it as well.

Summertime, written and directed by Catherine Corsini, hits theaters July 22.

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