Color, 1983, 133 mins. 19 secs.
Directed by Jean Becker
Starring Isabelle Adjani, Alain Souchon, Suzanne Flon, François Cluzet, Maria Machado
Cult Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), Bayview (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
You couldn't throw a rock at an American video store in the '80s without hitting one that had a copy of One Deadly Summer (L'Été meurtrier), a César Award-winning sexy French import that
continued to cement star Isabelle Adjani as one of Europe's greatest modern leading ladies. Featuring a striking shot of Adjani in her full-on siren appearance from the film, the tape was a hot item thanks to heavy publicity from MCA Home Video, the home entertainment arm of its distributor, Universal Pictures (during one of its very rare '80s forays into foreign films). The revenge thriller was also a high point for director Jean Becker, son of the legendary director Jacques Becker, who parlayed this film's breakthrough success into a string of pastoral dramas to continue to this day.
In a small French country village, Elaine (Adjani), nicknamed Elle, arrives and ignites the passions of the local young men with her intoxicating presence. She lives with her solemn and reclusive mother (Machado) and becomes closest to a mechanic nicknamed Pin-Pon (Souchon), but it turns out she has a dark secret: a vendetta against three men she believes committed an atrocious act that must be avenged and has a connection to a mysterious piano stashed in a barn. However, her path to retribution turns out to be far more complicated than imagined as the story soon unravels about how the past will continue to exact a terrible toll on the younger generation.
Complex and designed carefully to upend viewer expectations, this is hardly the rape-revenge thriller one might expect from the era with Adjani turning in a fascinating, often electrifying performance that uses her sexuality to keep all of the characters distracted and off balance. It's a sunny, quiet film for the most part (including the sparing score by the great Georges Delerue), but it goes into some very, very dark territory, in keeping with the source novel by Sébastien Japrisot (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Becker). A formidable crime writer, he was responsible for the literary sources for such films as Rider on the Rain, The Sleeping Car Murders, The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun, and A Very Long Engagement, among others, and this marks as good an entry into his style as any.
Long after the rights lapsed from Universal, Bayview debuted the film on a bare bones U.S. DVD in 2010 with a Blu-ray edition following in 2015 from a restored HD master in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Image quality is a substantial improvement and looks quite nice, capturing the crisp and sunny aesthetic of the film with occasional dips into more stylized territory during the few night scenes lit with more vivid colors. The Blu-ray sweetened the deal with an Isabelle Adjani interview at Cannes (20m39s), two Becker interviews (24m41s and 27m57s), an unsubtitled French trailer, and a stills gallery. In 2019, Cult Films bowed the film on U.K. Blu-ray with a technically identical transfer (LPCM French mono audio with optional English subtitles, albeit white here instead of yellow) and two extras including a lengthy overview of Japrisot (45m41s) including his life story from a start in advertising and a dive into his techniques that made his thrillers stand out from the pack. A 2006 Becker interview (29m14s) from the earlier disc is also included, covering his path to becoming a filmmaker, his desire to capture "slightly exaggerated realism with some tenderness," the intended casting of Gerard Depardieu, and the attempts to get Adjani to do the film starting in 1979, with the scenes involving skimpy or a complete lack of clothing proving to be the biggest stumbling block. Bonus newly-created trailers for The Battle of Algiers, La Dolce Vita and Juliet of the Spirits are also included.
Reviewed on August 11 , 2019.