The Mary Sue at TIFF: Summertime and Our Little Sister
Two of the Sweetest and Funniest Films
Two gentle, intimate charmers playing at the Toronto International Film Festival would make for some crowd pleasing theatrical releases…although being foreign language films mean you’ll have to seek them out when and if they get a theatrical release date.
French director Catherine Corsini’s latest film Summertime (La Belle Saison) is a truly romantic coming of age story about two women during the women’s movement. Our Little Sister is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s follow up to his acclaimed Like Father, Like Son, a family drama about four sisters.
Corsini’s Summertime focuses on Izïa Higelin’s Delphine, a farmer’s daughter who has moved to Paris to get out of the country town where everyone seems to expect her to marry her childhood friend Antoine. In Paris, she meets Spanish teacher Carole (Cécile de France) the leader of a feminist group. While Carole introduces Delphine to “feminism,” Carole has her own sexual discovery with Delphine.
One thing that has to be said from the very start…this is one of the sexiest movies I’ve ever seen. Part of the reason the sex scenes are so gorgeous is that both women look like they are having the time of their life in bed (or in the field or pond) together. The movie’s bright, sundrenched scenes are also beautiful cinematic moments which make both 1971’s Paris and the countryside look almost like postcards the characters are living in.
Corsini’s managed to make a romantic, joyful, sentimental, and truly hilarious movie about this time period. Both women are given the opportunity to be hilarious, fun women anyone would want to spend summer days with (especially when together). And the use of period detail is inspired and often unexpected, especially Corsini’s musical choices. Corsini (who is gay and produced the film with her partner) is telling a story we have seen before, but with a refreshingly lighthearted tone that actually makes the big moments hit even harder than if the film were just a drama.
Our Little Sister is another unexpectedly comic coming of age film, this one about three adult sisters who take in the little sister they just met. After their long absent father’s death, the Koda sisters Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho) meet their thirteen year old sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose). Left with a stepmother she doesn’t like, the older sisters offer to take her in, explaining “we have jobs so we can take care of you.” The film documents the next year for the sisters, as Suzu integrates herself into the family and town, and the sisters start to grow up (and move past their parental issues with their mother).
Unlike his last film, which was interested in a pretty devastating idea (what if your child had been switched at birth?), the simplicity of the film, and vignette approach, is something that makes the film feel more like a true family drama…one you could easily watch with kids. What the movie finds is that sweet spot for genuine family movies, something which can be shared and is an experience that changes as kids grow up.
Cheers to Kore-eda who has made the too, too rare coming of age movie focused about women which doesn’t primarily sexualize them. He has an interest in exploring their careers, daily lives, and family bonds. They all have a love life, but it isn’t the primary interest. It’s rare to have a movie which looks at the daily life of women and girls, and even rarer to have one coming from a male director…but Kore-eda hasn’t just made one, he has embraced the challenge. He has also created a real community to surround these women, from the dinner run by the maternal older woman, to a hospital where one of the sisters works, to the school Suru goes to. The dreamy, bright look of the film (described as a waterfall) imbues everyday scenes with magic. Warning for this movie I should mention however is the fact that the movie might be a bit too precious about every scene, including more false endings than the third Lord of the Rings film. I wasn’t itching for the film to end, but after the third fade down at what could be a logical ending to this plotless film, you can get a little frustrated.
Perhaps the problem was Kore-eda knew he had something special in this film which audiences would want to cherish. At a festival like this, joyful, small films like these are rare, and Kore-eda and Corsini’s films certainly filled that void this year. Our Little Sister and Summertime both feel like they are something special.
Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.
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