A slow-burning dramatic thriller, One Deadly Summer (L’Été meurtrier) is a noir-ish tale of death and desire. The story in Jean Becker’s 1983 adaption of Sébastien Japrisot’s novel is strong, but the film really works because of the performances from Isabelle Adjani and Alain Souchon. The latter won a César Award for Best Actress in 1984.
One Deadly Summer sees Adjani’s seductive Elle arrive in a small French town to seek revenge on the men who raped her mother. All the men in village have eyes for her, but she strikes-up a relationship with Souchon’s Pin-Pon, a laid-back mechanic and part-time fireman. It’s because of this relationship that complications begin to knock her plans off course.
From the mid 1970s through the 1980s Isabelle Adjani was one of the hottest French actresses around, scoring high profile roles in a variety of big movies and working with A-list international auteurs like Roman Polanski, Werner Herzog, James Ivory, Walter Hill and Francois Truffaut. However, it’s her seductive role in One Deadly Summer which might be her crowning glory. It’s a performance which walks a very thin line. Adjani plays the antagonist and the protagonist, the femme fatale and hero. She’s strong and fragile. That’s a tough as for anyone to do this, even tougher for a young actress who was just in her mid-twenties when filming. French singer-songwriter Alain Souchon also impresses as the somewhat naive and slobbish Pin-Pon, who falls for Elle’s seductive wiles. He’s got an impressive character arc through the film, growing in emotional strength as Adjani’s Elle begins to flounder.
Jean Becker directs on an unfussy way, but along with his cinematographer (and brother) Étienne Becker, he’s able to get across the heat of a long summer. This oppressive heat not only mirrors the passion fired-up between Adjani and Souchon’s characters, but also the tension which begins to rise as the film moves from light romance into revenge-thriller territory.
A huge hit in its native France when released in 1983, there’s much to recommend in One Deadly Summer. It’s an impressive drama with interesting plotting and great performances from its leads (and supporting cast). What more do you want?
The Cult Films Blu-ray and DVD release of One Deadly Summer comes with a fascinating interview with director Jean Becker. It’s a wonderfully insightful piece, which covers everything from the film’s development and casting through to release. The disc also comes with a strong featurette on writer Sébastien Japrisot. Excellent stuff.