There's a trepidatious aura in the summer air. The vociferous crickets, the sun-soaked weeds, and the glistening semen left over from a forgettable fling remain intact in our cultivated cornfields. Denis Côté's latest is rich with erotic detail — a domestic drama settled in the rural confines of a Quebecois rehabilitation centre. At its core, Côté's feminist drama follows the interior lives of three sex-addicts and their journey towards eventual recovery. In all of its sunlit detail, That Kind of Summer's refreshing narrative-undertaking presents its explicit material with great nuance and maturity. If anything, the film can be most aptly described as a deeply unsexy film about sex; a purely human examination and a painfully-wrenching testament to the human condition.
Throughout the film, Côté frames trauma and self-assigned gender-roles of each of his three characters with refreshing sophistication. Occasionally archetypal in the film's inciting conflicts, Côté allows his characters to develop and find their identity in his granular estate; through extended naturalistic conversations and shifting perspectives. Prominently assembled from a largely women-centric cast of uniquely flawed addicts — the men present in the memories and experiences of the young women are cleverly shrouded and censored. Their faces are rarely present, as we prominently view the men through far distances and substantive closeups of their torsos. The gaze is ever-present, consistently avoiding fetishisation; leaving acts of sexual and emotional violence to the interpretation of the susceptible viewer.
Côté exchanges voyeurism for emotional poignancy; including a plethora of deeply unsettling and unflinching monologues. Without itching on insensitivity, the extended conversations are often anchored in the prowess of performance; as Larissa Corriveau's turn as Léonie invites the audience to experience and empathise with her traumatic-past through naturalistic mannerisms and suppressive stares. The most invasive element found within That Kind of Summer is the power of its sound design. Côté assembles rich cues to disturb and unsettle. The sounds of rope, blaring pornographic videos, and even the brief touch of a hand rubbed against the skin of a lover are mixed with great intensity. The sound-scape specifically emulates a detailed recollection; memory dissolving through the cochlea of auditory stress.
At its resounding conclusion, Côté punctuates the importance of therapy and counselling, as the film's thesis avoids preachy sentimentality. Côté refuses to allude that these services are the ultimate cure for addiction; yet rather proposes that the reason why these programs exist are to provoke some semblance of hope. Therapy is never easy, and it takes longer for a month to fully recuperate. But when there's an acknowledgement of life, when there's some glimmer of light at the end of a dimly-lit tunnel; there is a will to live. Without the insistence nor need for a grandiose finale, That Kind of Summer wraps with the three women disappearing into the great Quebecois archipelago; rinsed and replenished by their 26-day stint with a burning sense of compassion for their frightful future.