Screens Two Yorkshire tarriers

Girls from opposite sides of the hedgerow find sex and solace with one another

When the two teenagers meet, Tamsin is gazing down at Mona from astride a magnificent white horse. The scene's proxemic pattern parallels social status; the posh estate where Tamsin lives during breaks from private school is many rungs above the dingy pub that serves as Mona's home. Tamsin's father drives a Jaguar, but fatherless Mona moves about on a battered motorbike that lacks a motor. Her family's pub, like the Saint-Saens piece that Tamsin performs on cello, is named The Swan, but Mona, who was recently dumped by Ricky (Andrews), the married man who used her, face down, for speedy gratification, feels more like an ugly duckling. She never knew her father, her mother died of cancer, and she lives with her brother, a convicted felon turned Christian zealot. "Just me, me brother, and God" is how she summarizes her domestic arrangements. When we first see brother Phil, he is pouring away the pub's alcoholic inventory to convert the place into a center for spiritual renewal. Phil's project for the summer is to erect a massive crucifix on the hill overlooking their town; his sister's is to find herself another life.

If you're going to Yorkshire, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair: Tamsin and Mona undergo personal epiphanies in My Summer of Love.

"I'm a fantasist," proclaims Tamsin, who likes to imagine an existence more vibrant than the one represented by her aloof, philandering father. Enchanting and transforming plebeian Mona is the challenge she sets for herself during her summer vacation. Tamsin, who spouts aphorisms from Friedrich Nietzsche and venerates Edith Piaf (for her defiant music and for murdering her third husband with impunity, "because in France crimes of passion are forgiven"), is unlike anyone Mona has ever known, and Mona is smitten. She envisions herself as successor to Sadie, the beautiful, beloved sister who, tearful Tamsin reports, died of anorexia.

Based on a novel by Helen Cross, My Summer of Love is the second feature by Polish-born British director Pawel Pawlikowski (His first, Last Resort, explores the plight of a Russian woman and her son seeking asylum in England). Despite - in fact, defying - its mawkish title, Pawlikowski's latest offering is a clear-eyed study of two young women on the verge of dramatic change. Enamored by the power each exerts over the other, Tamsin and Mona prowl the Yorkshire countryside together. Fortified by their companionship, they dare to stalk Tamsin's father outside his secretary's bedroom and to taunt Ricky's wife about her husband's infidelity. And they discover erotic fulfillment in each other. The film is the story of a youthful lesbian idyll, but the sexuality is incidental to the revelation of character in nuanced performances by newcomers Natalie Press (Mona) and Emily Blunt (Tamsin).

My Summer of Love

Dir. & writ. Pawel Pawlikowski, based on a novel by Helen Cross; feat. Natalie Press, Emily Blunt, Paddy Considine, Dean Andrews (R)
For all his professions of Christian forbearance, violence never seems more than an indignity away from Tamsin's born-again brother Phil. When his sister echoes Tamsin echoing Nietzschean impieties about the death of God, it triggers atavistic impulses against which his newfound gentleness cannot hold a prayer. A familiar figure from In America and Cinderella Man, Paddy Considine plays Paul as a repentant sinner desperate to save the world in order to save himself.

"Apparently, I'm a bad influence on people," explains Tamsin, who was suspended from school. Though forewarned, Mona succumbs to that influence, but it is not quite what she or a viewer expects. Nor is Mona exactly an uncouth Cinderella elevated out of drudgery by the kiss of Princess Charming. As seductive as a beautiful young aristocrat arriving on an ivory steed, the script to My Summer of Love leads a lazy viewer to expect Heavenly Creatures or Thelma and Louise transposed to northern England, but the violence in this film is inflicted mostly on audience smugness.


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