French Film Festival questions identity

On Feb. 20, the French Film Festival presented La Belle Saison, which literally translates to “The Good Season,” but was instead named Summertime for English-speaking audiences. Brian Martin, professor of French and comparative literature, again introduced the film; as usual, he provided a helpful context from cultural, cinematic and political perspectives. La Belle Saison is a 2015 feature focusing on the romantic relationship between two young women participating in the feminist movements of the early 1970s.

Fitting in with the Festival’s theme of “diversity and adversity,” the multifaceted film touches on several topics of diversity — particularly sexuality, femininity and class. Delphine, the main character, works on a small farm in rural France with her parents, who are eager for her to settle down with the local boy.

Unbeknownst to them, Delphine, Paris-bound for college in the fall, has been sneaking off at night to see a girl that she loves. However, the first time that the audience is privy to their relationship, it is in the form of watching a break-up. Delphine’s lover is getting married — to a man. The girl dismisses her time with Delphine — and seemingly her entire sexual experience with women — as just a fling. Swiftly and subtly, the film shows the constraints Delphine faces in such a small and traditionalist community. The norm in Delphine’s community for those who are “diverse” is not to learn how to be yourself, but to “grow up” and learn to squeeze yourself into the predetermined mold.

When Delphine moves to Paris, she encounters a witty, charming group of feminists. She quickly befriends one of the group’s apparent leaders, Carole. Despite Carole hav-ing a boyfriend with whom she lives, Delphine pursues her romantically. After being initially rebuffed, Delphine succeeds in her second advance. La Belle Saison does an especially good job at detailing the confusion and frustration from Carole’s boyfriend. While the easy road would have been to take a broad brush and paint him as the villain, it goes for a far more nuanced approach, showing that Carole’s situation comes with a lot of complications and few easy decisions.

Things become further complicated when Delphine receives news that her father has fallen seriously ill and can no longer take care of the farm. At this point in the movie, La Belle Saison stretches beyond the genre conventions of analyzing gender and sexuality, and begins to add class into the conversation. Placing young cosmopolitan feminists on a farm is not exactly their usual environment. Delphine decides to go back home to take care of her family’s farm — not having to sell it is of immense importance to her. Feeling that they are truly in love, Carole decides to come with her. Though they continue their relationship, Delphine and Carole keep it a secret from the townsfolk and Delphine’s family. The situation, however, is unsustainable. Delphine loves Carole, but she values her own identity as a member of the community as well. Her community, and her family, will not allow her to be all parts of herself.

As the time approaches for Delphine to make the choice between Carole and her life at home, it feels reminiscent of the inevitability of storm clouds slowly marching in on a sunny day. For all the upbeat moments La Belle Saison gives us on the farm, you know there can be no happy ending. Delphine has come to the hardest kind of decision — the kind where there are parts of yourself tugging you in different directions and you cannot possibly choose any path forward without leaving a part of yourself behind. The heartbreak is inevitable and all Delphine can do is choose which part of herself to sever.

The film successfully presents the audience with a perspective seldom seen in cinema. La Belle Saison triumphs because the difficulty of Delphine’s situation outweighs the predictability of the film.