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VALERIA BRUNI TEDESCHI: THE SUMMER HOUSE/LES ESTIVANTS (2018) - RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA

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RICARDO SCAMARCIO, VALERIA BRUNI TEDESCHI IN THE SUMMER HOUSE

A Valeria Bruni Tedeschi family drama à la Chekhov, by Fellini

The Summer House/Les Estivants, the prolific actress Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's fourth feature, is perhaps her most complex and one of her best. And though she is constantly seen on stage and screen in French and Italian, in which she is equally fluent, and has 90 screen acting credits, she obviously cares very much about her relatively small number of directorial efforts, because they are so autobiographical, speaking much about her complicated Franco-Italian industrial family and usually incorporating family members into the cast.

Note that Bruni Tedeschi recently directed for television a version of Chekhov's Three Sisters (R-V 2016). The Summer House, an elaborate, full-dress, impressively cast and acted family gathering at the family summer place of a wealthy industrialist, with a sister, mother, and adopted daughter on hand, has all the trappings of Chekhov and then some. This is like Chekhov by Bruni Tedeschi with staging by Fellini. And this is also self-reflective, because Anna, Bruni Tedeschi's character, is here working on a film - though in a comical preliminary scene including Frederick Wiseman as a board member it doesn't seem to have gotten the funding it sought - with her cowriter Nathalie (B.T.'s actual cosripter Noémie Lvovsky).

All members of Anna's complicated family seem to be on hand, including the director's own mother as her character's mother again, two actors competing apparently to play Anna's brother who died of AIDS (as did B.T.'s actual brother Virginio), and her brother's ghost (Stefano Cassetti) haunting the grounds. The film juggles a lot of subplots, including intense ones "downstairs," among the estate's household of staff, which include Yolande Moreau and François Négret. Also on hand is Pierre Arditi, Valeria Golino, B.T.'s adopted African daughter Oumy Bruni Garrel, two members of the Comédie Française, Laurent Stocker and Bruno Raffaelli, and Italian heartthrob Riccardo Scamarcio as Luca, Anna's love, who is drifting away from her, standing in for her ex-husband Louis Garrel.

The only taint on this enjoyable romp is how old-fashioned and derivative it is - in many respects. Bruni Tedeschi's own creation of Anna, a creative madwoman, driven crazy by by Luca's abandonment, is original with her. And as Luca, Scamarcio is both very physical and real, fleshy, dark and handsome with his flashing pale blue eyes, kissing her, smoking, and yet perhaps also imaginary some, or even all, of the time. All this is certainly sui generis. It's just the whole idea of the wealthy family summerhouse gathering of moody isolated planets that comes from the Russians, and the whole social setting of inherited wealth, with servants, an old house, is very vieux jeu - not to mention the fact that Burni Tedeschi has done this kind of thing herself, speaking about her own and her family's life, before.

But this familiarity does not keep The Summer House from entertaining, if you sit back and ride with the full extent of its meandering, anecdotal unfolding - - though Jessica Kiang clearly did not, since in her Variety review she called this film "aggravatingly insular." (See however Boyd van Hoeij's more appreciative and more detailed review for Hollywood Reporter.)

The Summer House/Les Estivants, 122 mins., debuted at Venice (Out of Competition) Sept. 2018 and was shown in at least five other festivals, including Mumbai. French theatrical release began 30 Jan. 2019 (AlloCiné press rating 3.1). Screened for this review as part of the UniFrance-FSLC Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, Mar. 2019. U.S. Premiere. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi reportedly could not be present because of opening in a play in Paris.

Rendez-Vous showtimes:
Tuesday, March 5, 1:30pm
Friday, March 8, 6:00pm

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