Madeleine Davies

My Summer of Love: film review

In Uncategorized on February 8, 2014 at 3:49 pm

The scenes depicting charismatic Christianity in My Summer of Love are clearly the work of someone who’s been up close to the real thing. Hands are outstretched, things are lifted up in prayer, while fire is beseeched to come down. The language, which I often think must sound quite suggestive to some ears, is spot-on: “More passion, Lord”. The director, Pawel Pawlikowski had previously directed a documentary about born-again Christians in the North (Lucifer over Lancashire) and it is perhaps this that inspired him to make the brother in this story a member of this tribe (he isn’t in the novel on which it is based).

The film is primarily about the heady relationship between two teenage girls, one, Mona, scribbling on the woodchip that papers her room above The Swan, the other, Tamsin, wringing Saint-Saëns ode to this creature out of her cello. But the film is more interesting for the addition of Mona’s brother, Phil, who has recently converted to Christianity.

“I want the old Phil” says Mona. “That old Phil, he didn’t make me very happy” explains Phil. “He made me happy. I loved my brother. He used to be real,” says Mona.

Authenticity isn’t a problem for Mona; it comes to her naturally. She’s entirely without guile and her depressing sexual encounters do nothing to take away from her basic purity. She means what she says and says what she means. Tamsin, by contrast, is pretentious, affected, an inveterate story-teller. And Phil has assumed a new identity, putting on the clothes of righteousness.

The question, which I don’t think is every entirely resolved, is whether this equates to being a fraud. The “real” Phil, missed by Mona, was, by the sound of it, violent and unhappy. The born-again Phil has friends, drive, a purpose. He’s also incredibly annoying. When Mona cries that she’s lost her family, her home, and that “no-one fancies me”, he responds by praying “Oh Jesus, watch over this child”. Her response – “Oh fuck off” – is the right one, I think. With all the zeal of the new convert, Phil plonks himself on a new plane. His sister, stuck below, can only be addressed via God as mediator. “I prayed for my sister, cos I know that she’s in turmoil” he tells his fellow-believers. “It’s hard for me, I can’t just reach out and tell her.”

It’s easy to mock Phil, and Mona and Tamsin do so mercilessly. And yet, I wasn’t convinced that Phil was a fake. Faith is, partly, a choice. It’s also experiential, particularly, obviously, in the charismatic tradition. Who knows, really, what is going on when someone falls over during a prayer session? Perhaps he has been filled with the Holy Spirit. Perhaps he really wants to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. Religious communities have their own vernacular, and for the new convert eager to find a home, it’s natural to pick this up, even if it sounds affected to others.

Phil’s downfall is his zeal, which isolates him from his sister, and leads him to focus on evil as Other. It is easier to speak of possession by demonic forces than confront the frailty of human nature, including your own. The fall-out from Mona and Tamin’s attempts to get back the old, “real”, Phil suggests that the intensity of his faith is not matched by depth, but don’t entirely convince that he was a fraud.

The real fake is not Phil, in any case. Only Mona sticks to her word – as Tamsin finds out. And although the film is an exploration of authenticity, it’s also a celebration of the intensity and passion of female relationships. The temptation, on first meeting someone, to impress, embellish, fantasise, must be familiar to most people. Tamsin may or may not be many things, but she’s no snob. Her mistake is to imagine that tragedy, when it really happens, is romantic. Mona’s ambitions – “I’ll get a bastard boyfriend, churn out kids with mental problems, and wait for the menopause or cancer” – are part bravado, but part realism. They may thrill Tamsin, but they are not close enough to her poetic sense (which she seems to have stolen from Edgar Allen Poe) to tempt her to adopt them.

Nevertheless, the bond created by trading woes – a dead mother for an adulterous father – is real enough and the depiction of the menacing consequences of loyalty – my enemy is your enemy – ring true. Up in the pink gorse, looking down on the town, pink cheeks, pink clothes, pinkish evening light, the breeze ruffling heather and hair, Mona and Tamsin capture all the beauty of a summer romance doomed to fade.

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