‘Summer of 85’ a French heartbreaker, Moreno shines in ‘Just a Girl’

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Opening Friday in theaters, “Summer of 85” isn’t as dark or as deep as its director, Francois Ozon, has previously proved able to go. But this sun-streaked French heartbreaker is still a wildly engaging tale of teenage self-discovery and amour fou.

Adapted by Ozon from British author Aidan Chambers’ young-adult novel “Dance on My Grave,” the film transpires in a 1985 French working-class seaside town. The tone brings to mind some of Ozon’s blatantly sexy and suspenseful earlier works, while the plot runs the Ozon gamut: sex, death, grief, a body, sunbathing, cross-dressing…

The film begins with the arrest of 16-year-old Alex (Felix Lefebvre) for an unidentified crime. In voice-over, Alex says he’s obsessed with death and that his story involves a corpse.

To elaborate, Alex flashes back several weeks, to a sailing incident in which his boat capsizes. Seemingly out of nowhere, 18-year-old David (Benjamin Voisin) comes to Alex’s rescue. “That’s him — the future cadaver” is how Alex’s narration identifies David.

David, very much alive at that point, takes Alex home with him, and Alex meets David’s too-friendly mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). Quickly, the two young men become friends and then lovers. Together, they go to the cinema, to a nightclub and on reckless motorcycle rides.

David and his mother offer Alex a job at their store, which they used to operate with Alex’s now deceased dad, whom mother and son both miss constantly.

Death is among the movie’s primary themes, and David and Alex, each in his own way, flirt with it. At one point, David persuades Alex to enter into a morbid pact with him.

Disaster befalls the relationship when Kate (Philippine Velge), an English au pair David appears attracted to, comes aboard.

The film isn’t as emotionally affecting or psychologically compelling as Ozon fare such as “Under the Sand” or the recent “By the Grace of God.”

Alex’s post-David narration, which comes from an account Alex created for his court case, at the urging of his writing teacher (Melvil Poupaud), explains how David became a corpse and why Alex was arrested, but it feels contrived.

Still, the movie is nostalgic and vital, more than a hybrid of “Call Me by Your Name” and “Purple Noon.”

Ozon’s mesmerizing tale of first love and romantic obsession offers a whirl of teenage exhilaration, impulsiveness and confusion, with lively lead performances.

As the emotional, and sometimes outrageously behaving, Alex, Lefebvre portrays a tempestuous first-love experience and its dark aftermath. Voisin is compelling as the confident, seductive David, who has his own demons.

Shot on 16mm film, the movie captures the vibe of its title year, a joyful time right before the reality of AIDS takes hold. The fashions, dance-floor moves, and music — recordings by The Cure (“In Between Days”), Rod Stewart (“Sailing,” presented as Alex’s personal anthem), and Bananarama (“It’s a cruel, (cruel) cruel summer”) set the tone — take us back.


Summer of 85


Starring: Felix Lefebvre, Benjamin Voisin, Philippine Velge, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi

Written and directed by: Francois Ozon

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Not rated

Rita Moreno candidly shares her life story in the documentary “Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It.” (Courtesy Roadside Attractions)

Rita Moreno candidly shares her life story in the documentary “Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It.” (Courtesy Roadside Attractions)

Rita Moreno finally has her own documentary, and it’s a conventional but inspiring celebration of her talent and trailblazing achievements as a Latina performer in racist, sexist times.

Directed by Mariem Perez Riera, “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” (opening Friday in theaters) chronicles the life and 75-year career of the now 89-year-old Moreno, with the actor-singer-dancer serving as guide.

We follow Moreno from her early childhood in Puerto Rico to her arrival in New York City to an MGM contract at age 16, after studio boss Louis B. Mayer told her she looked like a “Spanish Elizabeth Taylor.”

Her movie roles, mostly ethnic stereotypes speaking accented English, were demeaning. Breakthroughs came with “Singin’ in the Rain” and “West Side Story,” for which Moreno received an Academy Award. But even after that, Hollywood offered her only caricatures to play.

The film also covers Moreno’s crushing relationship with Marlon Brando, botched abortion, attempted suicide, and unhappy marriage. Triumphs include numerous accolades and the opportunity to inspire others as a role model.

Moreno is one of only a few performers to achieve EGOT-winning (Emmy-Grammy-Oscar-Tony) status. She has been a vocal advocate for Latina pride and women’s rights.

Riera hasn’t made a penetrating portrait of Moreno. The film doesn’t deeply explore what has enabled Moreno to soar so high.

But whether sitting in a chair and reminiscing or making decorations for her own birthday party, Moreno is an outstanding documentary subject — self-aware, funny, and wonderfully outspoken.

Interviewees, who include family members, agents, and fellow artists like Eva Longoria, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Karen Olivo, and Hector Elizondo, provide vividly admiring commentary. Archival material illustrates Moreno’s talent and versatility and reminds us of the horribly undignified roles that Latina actors were stuck playing in decades past.


Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It


Starring: Rita Moreno, Eva Longoria, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Karen Olivo

Directed by: Mariem Perez Riera

Rated: PG-13

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

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