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A Summer’s Tale: An Ode to French Film

One of the most memorable scenes for me in Seinfeld is the nothing pitch. While an NBC executive discusses a possible show with Jerry, George pitches his idea for the show: nothing. The show would be about real life, no impactful climaxes, no intricate plot details, no obscene visual effects, just nothing. It would follow characters in their daily routines and follow in on their conversations. When George asks the NBC executive what he did today, the executive responds that he went to work. George quickly retorts, “There’s a show. That’s a show.”

French cinema and literature seem to take a tip from George’s pitch and feature stories deeply rooted in realistic situations and experiences. The French new wave did not find its success in large-scale Hollywood projects or revolutionary film techniques. What French entertainment succeeded at was displaying the elegance in the mundane, painting an image of French life, still suspended in the romanticism era.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels devoted nearly the entirety of the film to the daily chores of a widow. Now you may be wondering, who would watch that movie? Who would be able to bear the repetitiveness without any real deviation? But people do, everyday. But these people are not watching this film. They are living it. The reason we attend films is to see things happen. To see a deviation from the mundane. This film (in a bit of pessimist manner) asks us to examine ourselves, and see if we have allowed ourselves to take part in this mundane cycle. French films have been revolutionary simply in their depictions of real life. But not all of these come off as so foreboding. A Summer’s Tale and films alike exemplify the beauty in small talk, the grandeur in daily acquaintances. In the synopses of Linklater’s brilliant “before” trilogy, it is described as a Dialogue Marathon. This description is accurate but anyone who hasn’t seen the film may attach a negative connotation to this description. Marathons tend to evoke imagery of 26.2 mile long laborious treks, correlated with strenuous exercise and an overall discomfort. A Summer’s Tale never exhausts as pleasing French scenery serves as the backdrop of even more pleasing dialogue. The dialogue never dragged as it fluidly transitions back and forth between heavy and light, friendly and romantic, humorous and philosophical. This multifaceted approach is grounded enough that viewers can juxtapose it with their own issues, but also serves as nearly a framework, a guideline of what our lives could be. These films nearly become philosophy with this perspective as we can nearly study life from the comfort of our own homes.

If you were to explain to me a synopsis of A Summer’s Tale, I would tell you that this wasn’t a movie, closer to a book, but even closer to just a typical week. The common techniques of story telling are absent in this film and, as a result of this, the plot does not necessarily constantly progress. There is no need to put into motion the plan to facilitate a happy ending in the story. Each event is caused from the previous actions and decisions and Deus Ex Machinas are not featured to save the day before the credits roll. This disregard for conventional schematics allows for the audience to feel simply that they are watching people live their lives. My favorite aspect of this is that the characters are in full control of their outcomes. It is their decisions, not an outside force, that will shape their futures. Despite this being a message cemented in the sphere of cinema, these are essential lessons that should be inscribed into the minds of anyone. Our choices will dictate the consequences. This simple truth is not only a negative one. Love, friendship, a sense of fulfillment, these are all tangible aspects that we need to decide if we want to achieve. These are also covered in A Summer’s Tale, a film that in some instances serves as a better study on life than life itself.

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