The film opens with Alex (né Alexis) being dragged to prison by uncaring policemen. In voiceover, he warns us that he has a particular obsession with death, and if we’re not interested in corpses, we may as well stop watching now. It’s not long before the same voiceover tells us that David Gorman will soon become this corpse, and that Alex will be responsible for his death.
Alex meets David when his usual best friend somehow believes that spending time messing with gurls would be more interesting than going sailing with Alex. In the middle of a storm, Alex manages to overturn his boat, and is only saved by David sailing by. David takes him home for fresh clothes, and a bath and some sexually inappropriate conversation from David’s mother.
There follows some “will they, won’t they?” moments, as Alex and David go to the pictures together and David gives Alex rides on the back of his scooter. You sort of assume that they’re attracted to each other, but you’re never entirely sure that they’re gay until they end up in bed with each other. There then follows 6 weeks of bliss.
This is a story of young love – Alex is 16, David is 18 and one month – and heartbreak. You go along with it all until David insists that when one of them dies, the other one must dance on the other’s grave. The film is adapted from a YA novel, where I guess this sort of thing is normal, but was I the only one who found this just a little weird?
There are obvious class divides – Alex’s dad is a docker and David’s house is sumptuous, though may I suggest a little too sumptuous for someone who’s family just owns a tatty shop? I mean I know the mark up in that sort of place is ridiculous, but could David’s family really afford that sort of house? I completely buy the shifting power relationship when Alex takes a job at the shop and David suddenly becomes his boss, but David does seem to be depicted as being unnecessarily posh.
Anyway, trouble is intruding in paradise in the shape of Kate, a British au pair who meets Alex on the beach. I can’t put my finger on what makes Kate so attractive as a character. I guess its just the rarity of seeing an English actor speaking a foreign language confidently but in a distinct accent. It’s as if we are seeing a part of society that can be experienced relatively often in real life but rarely on screen.
Whatever, Kate goes on a sailing trip with David and Alex, and before you can say Jules et Jim, David is not wanting to be tied down and not wanting to be bound by boring monogamy. The young couple row, and the corpse predicted in the opening scene is soon produced. There follows a little cross dressing and grave dancing, but the main damage has been already done.
There are all sorts of reasons to get annoyed with Sommer 85 (which have apparently been raised by various critics), and let me raise what is probably the most trivial. Very early on, the film makes clear its Indie credentials with the Cure’s In Between Days and Lloyd Cole’s Forest Fire. And yet the song that is symbolic for Alex and David’s everlasting love is Rod Stewart’s Sailing – a film that was already 10 years old in 1985, which is a long time of lingering mawkish naffness.
I guess that this may tell us something deep about how we can’t choose the Our Tune which causes us to lose control. Alternatively, if you’re trying to manipulate my emotions, please don’t think that playing Rod fucking Stewart is your master card. Nor, for that matter, the wholly imagined idea that lovers pledging to dance on each other’s graves is in any way a Thing.
But do you know what? None of this really matters. Sommer 85 has enough to offer in the way of interesting plot and characters you care about that you really don’t mind the gaping plot holes. In this way, it has something to offer to the various films I’ve seen recently. Sure, they played the Berlinale and are all high concept, but they forgot to include anyone you actually care about. Sommer 85 doesn’t try to change the way we think about cinema, but at least it keeps us interested till the end.