A worthy addition to France’s long line of uncomfortable-sexual-awakening adolescent dramas, “Clara’s Summer” travels less horrifically (and less exploitatively) into Catherine Breillat terrain as the titular figure endures both humiliation and self-discovery during a summer camp stay. Pic’s major liability is its drab look, which lessens chances for offshore theatrical distribution. Still, it should find a berth among those looking for quality gay/lesbian titles.
Carefully keeping several narrative balls in the air within a convincingly naturalistic, unstructured teens-on-vacation milieu, vet writer-helmer Patrick Grandperret and scenarist Nathalie Stragier track teens Clara (Selma Brook) and Zoe (Stephanie Sokolinski) as they giddily set out for a one-week sports camp.
The girls aren’t really so interested in learning to sail or surf, however. Zoe, in particular, is determined that they should both lose their virginity. When her first flirtatious overtures toward targeted hottie Sebastien (Leo Grandperret) are doused by routine male immaturity, Zoe abruptly decides she might as well become a lesbian — and tells Clara she really, really loves her. But Clara is too flustered to accept this out-of-nowhere new wrinkle in their relationship.
Next day, not only does Zoe forget that apparently sincere declaration, she also forgets about Clara entirely — Sebastien is proving a winnable boyfriend after all. While they pair off, Clara is left alone, unaccepted by the dominant social clique, occasionally tormented by its most boorish boy-prankster trio. The boys jump to conclusions when Clara makes overtures of friendship toward the intriguing, stand-offish Sonia (Salomee Stevenin), who won’t deny or apologize for being bisexual.
Nicely complex conclusion balances ambiguity, romantic fantasy and humor as Clara and Zoe reassert their friendship with unexpected grace, like the matured near-grownups they’ve become.
Credible teenage behavior is captured in the way horseplay and gossip can turn into collective cruelty. Avoiding melodrama or overt teensploitation, pic’s details are just right, down to the enthusiastic reception of a not-so-great live band on party night. Only somewhat artificial element is character of Sonia, whose worldly, androgynous presence sounds a contrived note amid so much messily well-observed typical adolescence.
Perfs are very good, production elements well-handled in unpretentious fashion. But pic could have used visual presentation at least a tad more aesthetic than afforded by Jean-Noel Ferragut’s lensing, which is so washed-out and flat that the sky (as well as other surfaces) comes off as a dull white slate.