There is a sweltering heat, shimmering sweat, at the very opening of L’été meurtrier (One Deadly Summer), when Elle steps into the frame. “That girl” quickly becomes the talk of the southern French town, and claims the leering eyes of most of the men. Much of what makes Isabelle Adjani smoking hot here, is what turns into an ever-evolving, multi-layered masterful display of acting. Adjani was the French star of the 1980s for sure.
L’été meurtrier, with the glistening newcomer and the eye-popping locals, appears as fairly comical within its charming opening. Like the male protagonist Florimondo, is telling his colleagues to stop calling him Pin-Pon – a kind of friendly pun that resurfaces later. The bright, sunny disposition of the set-up may well be a red herring, though.
A tale of obsession to some degree, the film soon reveals much more than mere whimsy. There’s an altogether darker hole to be explored, a path built around tragic circumstances, for now on a wait-and-see basis. A film, then, that ought not to be judged by appearances.
The moment Elle sets eyes on Pin-Pon, sorry, Florimondo, out of curiousity more than anything else, his world halts its spin. The fixed gaze may say a lot more about the logistics of their encounter rather than this be pure love at first site. Adjani knows the eyes are on her. The slightly exaggerated hip sway as she walks, for example, is one way the actress makes Elle appear super-alluring. A cunning cat about to catch a hapless mouse?
True, then, there is far more to Elle than sexual magnetism. And so we’d hope this is not just a story about a floozy and some gullible so-and-so. Though the femme fatale persona definitely fits here, Elle has a layered depth, an intrigue that goes much further than what meets the eye.
What is evident, even if ever so slightly, is the somewhat sombre, pensive aura from Elle. Adjani is a dab hand at the look of innocence mixed with an abstract kind of turmoil. There’s a suffering little girl of sorts within that flamboyant young woman.
Truth be told, Elle is something of a live-wire. Hyper-sensitive about men taking advantage of her, or only wanting one thing. The cat lures the mouse, but is notnnexessarily going to eat you. Or not yet. Elle knows that the male gaze is a safe-bet, but that doesn’t mean a man can assume this is a catch.
An established notion Adjani devours the screen with. Her Elle expresses these frustrations from the more subtle tones of sacasm, to, on the other end of the scale, a tempoary fit of rage. Elle’s growing irrational behaviour is a plot developer and head-scratcher to both us and the characters around her.
Florimondo’s voice-over narration early in the film mirrors these minor discoveries and suspicions. When Elle’s voice-over appears, like spontaneous thoughts, there’s a definite whiff of intent for her arrival. The sweet smell of vengaence now in the air, those hesitations about Elle’s intentions have a much greater gusto.
As well as an enticing nature and hidden agenda, Elle also has a remarkable talent to answer the most ridiculous of sums a la Rainman. Like Einstein, Florimondo narrates, a side-note to a blooming character. A trait which, though, only seems to add to Elle’s burdens or worries. A troubled soul, indeed, the air of malice and portion of romance makes for an irresistible combination.
Isabelle Adjani gives everything here. A performance so full of beautiful mayhem amidst a blossoming melancholy. Elle is introduced as a free spirit with nothing to lose, she is actually tightly wound, and bursting at the emotional seams. Even her own personal motives become distorted when the past she believed uncovers a rather messy reality.
And although Adjani is required to do several scenes of nudity, the erotic side is never gratuitous. Almost like Elle is not afriad for those around her to see who she is, even with all the buried trauma of her family’s history. What the actress also flourishes at is the longing for stability, peace of mind, and then the descent into sorrow, madness you could say.
As Adjani demonstrated so superbly in the prior year’s Possession, nobody can quite overact as wonderfully as her. Making the melodramatic an admirable art form instead of a style of acting to be chortled at. With L’Été meurtier, Isabelle Adjani excells in the balancing act of whirlwind performance, emotional fatigue, and a taut alertness throughout. A truly versatile actress, this is one of her finest displays in a collection of many.