Shocking Love Affair Unleashed in ‘Last Summer’ – You Won’t Believe the Scandal!

The actions of Anne, a successful attorney and mother, as she embarks on an illicit affair with her 17-year-old stepson, Théo, in the radiant French drama “Last Summer,” are indefensible. Director Catherine Breillat neither attempts to justify nor condemn Anne’s actions. Rather, the film is an exploration of human behavior, illustrating how lustful impulses can unsettle even the most stable of lives.

French films that tackle taboo subjects can evoke images of classic art-house cinema promising forbidden delights. But Breillat is a seasoned provocateur with a purpose. She has spent years redefining cinema’s portrayal of love, sex, and the complex dynamics and attractions between men and women. “Last Summer” presents Anne (portrayed by Léa Drucker in a profoundly nuanced and undoubtedly Oscar-worthy performance) in her entirety, rather than providing intellectual titillation.

The film takes a bold start with Anne in her law firm, preparing a distressed teenager to testify about a sexual assault. She cautions her client about potential judgement. Anne then returns to her idyllic bourgeois life: two darling daughters, a diligent and genuine husband, a house nestled among trees. While she may find dinner parties tiresome, Anne is close to her resilient sister and deeply loves her family.

Théo (played by newcomer Samuel Kircher) returns home following issues at school and concerns expressed by his father, Pierre (Olivier Rabourdin), who is Anne’s husband. Théo fits the bill of a summer crush, yet there’s a youthful awkwardness and petulance about him that neither Kircher nor Breillat glamorize. Anne likely views Théo as a domestic issue to be handled, primarily Pierre’s responsibility.

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Days pass in passive coexistence until Anne’s emerging interest in Théo becomes evident when she unexpectedly joins him at a bar. The ensuing chaos depends on the exceptional skills of both the lead actress and the director: Drucker, in depicting how a refined individual can knowingly drift into catastrophe; and Breillat, in capturing the fine details of camera work and blocking that create an emotional reality.

The suspense surrounding their first kiss demonstrates Breillat’s expertise, occurring while Pierre is away and they are looking at something on a cellphone. When Anne and Théo do have sex, she insists it must not happen again, but inevitably it does. Without focusing on sex scenes or seduction, the story implies that the affair continues, while Anne attempts to hide it from her husband. Watching Anne’s helpless fascination and their libido-driven decisions almost feels like a horror movie.

One of the film’s three sex scenes focuses on Anne’s orgasmic pleasure, a scene that Breillat says she modeled on a Caravaggio painting. We see her satisfaction as a sexual being within a wildly inappropriate relationship. There’s a scene where she’s joyfully driving her car to a catchy Sonic Youth song.

Uncomfortable narratives have been Breillat’s forte since her first feature, 1976’s “A Real Young Girl,” which explores a teenager’s sensual exploration with no regard for propriety. In a recent press interview for “Last Summer,” Breillat noted, “Eroticism is men gazing at women as consumer goods.”

Since then, Breillat has developed one of the world’s most notable bodies of work detailing women and girls’ experiences with sex and their understanding of their sexuality (comparable in some aspects to the films of Jane Campion). Her notable works range from 2001’s “Fat Girl,” which explores a 12-year-old’s sexual awakening during a vacation with her older sister, to the fierce game of sexual succession in her period drama “The Last Mistress,” starring Asia Argento.

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In her career and in “Last Summer,” Breillat has focused on unequal and even harmful dynamics, recognizing the realities of oppressive gender relations and the fact that self-discovery often involves crossing societal norms, which society, especially when it comes to female sexuality, often disapproves.

“Last Summer,” in comparison to much of Breillat’s previous work, has a more commercial look and is not as shocking, yet her keen observations remain. Her personal story reveals a determined spirit that persevered after a stroke in 2004 left her partially paralyzed and led to a 10-year gap since her last project.

Her most recent film comes at a time when, until recently, there were complaints about the lack of sexuality in new releases. Breillat has been consistently present in the industry, and with “Last Summer,” she makes a powerful comeback.

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