Last Summer in Review – Catherine Breillat’s Too Safe Version of a Dangerous Romance | Cannes 2023
VSatherine Breillat made a hot – or rather lukewarm – mess of this remake of the very recent Danish erotic thriller Queen of Hearts, and it’s not immediately clear why exactly she felt the need to direct her own moderate version. The changes amount to smudging the icy Scandi sheen of the original, diminishing its erotic excitement, making the performances more laborious, and thus leaving the story’s essential absurdity dangerously exposed.
The first film, from writer-director May el-Toukhy, starred Trine Dyrholm as a stylish career lawyer specializing in representing rape victims who has a passionate affair with her teenage stepson; that is, the brooding son of her husband by his first marriage. Now the action is transplanted from cold Denmark to sunny, summery France and Léa Drucker stars as Anne, the legal high-flyer, married to wealthy but lackluster businessman Pierre (Olivier Rabourdin), with two adorable adopted twins. She has a sister, Mina (Clotilde Courau), who lives locally, has a less glamorous and successful life, and is affectionately but shrewdly unimpressed by Anne’s pretensions.
When Pierre’s 17-year-old son Theo (Samuel Kircher) proves unmanageable for his ex-wife, he comes to live with Anne and Pierre, and Anne is affected by his disheveled and sulky beauty, his loneliness , his vulnerability beneath the brooding attitude and the way he walks around shirtless, revealing a toned torso so different from her husband’s sagging paunch. Anne goes – in the immortal words of Noël Coward – crazy about the boy. One thing leads to another, including the realization that Anne can be quite ruthless in the cause of her own survival. Her upper-middle-class life is illustrated by the way she stands around drinking wine all the time in her beautiful home, and the potential rebellion streak is signaled by her open-top sports car, which is not not too practical for carrying a family around.
Breillat’s film plays out well enough while the case is ongoing, but is tested to destruction when things go wrong. She’s no good at delivering the crucial icy side of the story’s third act, happier than she is with the sunny, languorous sensuality of the crazy Love. And the plot developments of the film’s final section, particularly Anne’s final encounter with Theo, look silly.
Breillat seems to have recoiled from the uncompromising approach to sexuality she showed in famous films like À Ma Soeur!, and yet seems uncomfortable in the Chabrol-style drama where Isabelle Huppert could have, in d other circumstances, play the role of Anne. Basically, Anne needs that Greenian ice shard in her heart. Drucker doesn’t get it – and Breillat’s film finds no way for him to get it.