One Deadly Summer was directed by Jean Becker, the son of Jacques Becker, a great French director of the ’50s who made such films as Le Trou and Casque d’Or. As you would expect, his son cut his teeth working for pops as an assistant director, but sadly, if this film is any indication, Jacques’s mastery didn’t rub off on Jean. However, Jean Becker did make a couple of films with Jean-Paul Belmondo in the ’60s, including one that reunited Belmondo with Jean Seberg! So maybe those are good?
Becker is still working today, although he is in his mid-80s, but One Deadly Summer remains his most well-known and widely seen film. It stars Isabelle Adjani, who at the time was one of the biggest French actresses in the world after appearing in The Story of Adèle H., The Tenant, The Driver, Nosferatu the Vampyre, Possession and Quartet, to name just a few of the films she did in the late 70s and early ’80s. Her fame outside of France has certainly waned in recent years, but during her heyday, Adjani was one of the greats. Here she plays Elle, who has moved to a town in southern France and has an ulterior motive, unbeknownst to the car mechanic who becomes smitten with her. Her mother was raped by three men, and they were delivering a piano—does this car mechanic have a connection to this criminal trio?
The film its horrendously paced It’s 130 minutes long, and what is essentially a revenge thriller becomes increasingly tedious as it moves along at a snail’s pace. The car mechanic played by Alain Souchon is one of the blandest characters ever committed to celluloid, and Souchon is equally bland as an actor—he was mostly a singer, and only ended up acting in around a dozen films or TV movies. He may be “canceled” now, but a younger Gérard Depardieu would’ve been great in the role. The mystery itself isn’t that interesting, but the last 15 minutes or so starts to save the film, and the final, almost Tarantinoesqe, sequence comes out of nowhere.
Over the years it seems to have been somewhat forgotten, and you can understand why. However, Adjani is pretty good in her role. Although she seems a little old for this seemingly very young woman, Adjani did win one of her many Césars for her performance here. It almost feels like Betty Blue, but without any of what made that film so great: the psychological mind games aren’t on show and it doesn’t go to the insane depths of that film. I’m sure some will like it, but in the end I didn’t do much for me. The dual-format release from Cult Films includes an archival interview with Jean Becker and a documentary on the film’s screenwriter, Sebastien Japrisot.