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Last Summer

With her creamy wardrobe of tasteful neutrals and dreamy mansion in the Paris suburbs, Léa Drucker’s Anne has created an impenetrable exterior for herself in “Last Summer.” At least, that’s how it looks from the outside.  

But Anne doesn’t know she’s the main character in a Catherine Breillat movie, and so she – and we – are up for some upheaval. The provocative French auteur is back with her first feature in more than a decade, and at nearly 76, remains as curious and clear-eyed as ever in her depiction of women’s sexuality. There’s no judgment in her portrayal of Anne’s torrid, taboo affair; her downfall will occur regardless of what we think of her. Breillat’s approach is technically intimate yet tonally detached -- languid as a summer’s day, sometimes unbearably so, and often uncomfortably warm. 

When we first meet Anne, though, she’s coolly in command. A lawyer who works on behalf of teenage sexual assault victims and other young people in peril, she’s doing meaningful work that also means something to her. She’s compassionate yet firm as she questions her latest client, preparing this young woman for the interrogation she’ll surely endure in court. Anne is efficient and capable but also impossibly chic, and Drucker makes her wholly captivating from the start. 

But that façade begins to crumble when her wealthy, older husband, Pierre (Olivier Rabourdin), announces that his 17-year-old son from his first marriage has screwed up again, and he’d like to have him move in with them for a while. Pierre and Anne already have adorable, adopted daughters who bring youthful cheer to the home. Inviting this young troublemaker is an unwelcome disruption. 

Once the shameless (and frequently shirtless) Théo arrives, we can feel a bristling tension between him and Anne from the start. With his shaggy hair and lanky limbs, Samuel Kircher makes Théo the picture of teenage rebellion. And yet, we also catch glimpses of a goofy, gooey interior when he plays with his younger sisters, who worship him. In time, an unlikely conspiratorial bond forms between Anne and Théo, which turns to furtive scooter rides and afternoon drinks, which turns to more once Pierre conveniently leaves town on business. Breillat holds her camera in long takes, letting us linger in the moment as they smoke and drink in the backyard, their body language growing a little too familiar. The constant wine consumption serves as a lubricant over these long, lazy days.  

So when Anne and Théo finally give in to their attraction, it simply feels like a given. Of course, this was going to happen. Breillat once again shoots these scenes with unbroken simplicity, holding the shot long after the act is over, giving us time to interpret the look on Anne’s face. This is unsexy sex, but it’s clearly transformative. 

“Last Summer” is a remake of the 2019 Danish film “Queen of Hearts,” but Breillat makes the material her own in her signature, uncompromising manner. Once this incest-adjacent affair is on the verge of being exposed, the tension changes; the slow buildup of whether they’ll get caught shifts to the intensity of the potential damage to come. And yet, Breillat maintains a matter-of-fact tone throughout, allowing the power to come instead from Drucker’s masterful performance. We watch as she morphs seamlessly from showing the defenses of a caged animal to becoming the predator herself, gaslighting her accusers. The hypocrisy of Anne’s acts , given the kind of law she practices, is obvious, but Breillat is experienced enough to know she doesn’t need to spell that out for us. Quite the contrary – we see Anne harness all those expert interrogation techniques to turn the tables on anyone who dares come for her.  

Oddly, you might find yourself rooting for her to get away with it all – and then realize you feel uncomfortable about the fact that you’re rooting for her to get away with it all. Such is the complicated sorcery of a Catherine Breillat film.

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire is a longtime film critic who has written for RogerEbert.com since 2013. Before that, she was the film critic for The Associated Press for nearly 15 years and co-hosted the public television series "Ebert Presents At the Movies" opposite Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, with Roger Ebert serving as managing editor. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.

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Last Summer movie poster

Last Summer (2024)

104 minutes

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