During a Q&A session last year, French director François Ozon discussed what it meant to him as a teenager in 1985 to discover Aidan Chambers’s Dance On My Grave, a young adult novel of same-sex desire set in an Essex beach town. “It was very strong for us to read this story—in which there is death and love—at a time when the disease of AIDS was everywhere,” he said. The screenplay Ozon adapted from the novel lay unproduced for four decades; it is now the basis for this film, which returns to an earlier mode in Ozon’s work seldom seen since 2003’s Swimming Pool. A poignant sun-drenched nostalgia piece that whisks the viewer through all of puppy love’s wild twists and turns, the film manages not to unduly romanticize its young characters’ innocence in the face of either desire or death.
Adjusting the novel’s setting to the Normandy coast, the central love affair in Ozon’s film is between brooding, morbid teen boy Alexis (Félix Lefebvre) and David (Benjamin Voisin), the tall, tan, grinning daredevil who rescues Alexis when the sailboat he’s borrowed capsizes in a rainstorm. It isn’t long before everyone in this movie is too toned and half-naked for anyone else in the movie to handle. David’s mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, in an arresting performance) can barely keep her mitts off Alexis, a confusing thing to inflict on a boy who’s obsessed with your son. British exchange student Kate (Philippine Velge), poor girl, winds up caught at one corner of a gay love triangle before she knows it. As summer’s end complicates the dream, Alexis’s total commitment to David becomes unrealistic. But in a movie where desire is the only law, what’s unrealistic still gets its shot at being real, even if it only lasts for a summer.