My Summer Of Love

As a teenage girl, perhaps the biggest struggle of all is the struggle with one’s own sense of self identity, and (excuse the hideously overused phrase) ‘finding yourself’. Part of this eternal discovery, that begins with an unnerving swiftness in the teens, is figuring out what your desires are; not just sexually, but also in terms of what you expect out of life and the people in it. The need for this discovery can often lead to obsession. Teenage girls get obsessed with things; often, friendships are formed through the recognition of something that you yourself desire to have or to be, within someone else. Few films explore so perfectly the obsessive intensity of female teen friendships than Pawel Pawlikowski’s My Summer of Love.
In My Summer of Love, our protagonist Mona (Natalie Press) has found her mentor for life in Tamzin (Emily Blunt), whilst in Mona, Tamzin has found her enthusiastic student. Her naivety is like a blank canvas for Tamzin to weave her seductive web of deceit and manipulation upon, and Mona is more than happy to be seduced (either that or she’s completely unaware of it).
Mona lives with her brother Phil (Paddy Considine), above what was once The Swan Pub, now a sort of meeting place for Christians; Mona’s brother, after an abrupt change of heart, declares to have ‘found God.’ Feeling lost after being shagged then dumped by a married man who doesn’t care for her, and both abandoned and imprisoned by a brother who in her own words is a ‘faker’, Mona’s faith in men (she also has an absent father) is somewhat limited.
Sitting pensively on the grass, she gazes up in to the summer sky and in to focus, comes quite literally her knight in shining armor, on a handsome white horse; the beautiful Tamzin. United in an apparent hatred for the male species (Tamzin’s father is allegedly having an affair with his secretary) and longing for female companionship after the respective deaths of important female role models in their respective lives, their friendship quickly turns in to an intense, sexually charged affair.
What is most striking, is how at first glance, the two have nothing in common. Tamzin is well spoken, from a wealthy family and has a big house, and Mona is more than a little rough around the edges. What do they have in themselves that the other needs, or wants, before either has even had a chance to say more than a few words?
Tamzin seduces Mona from the offset; from every suggestive raised eyebrow and every twitch of her thigh as she plays her cello, to her teachings of Edith Piaf and Freud. She is very much the leader of whatever game is about to be played. Yet when things get become physical, her gaze ices over; it is not the physical act of sex that Tamzin wants, it is the ability to make Mona do whatever she says that is her ultimate desire. Mona’s naivety means that she swallows every bit of Tamzin’s carefully plotted tale, from frightening her with an Ouija board to encouraging her to make childlike pacts about being together forever. Tamzin even fantasises that she has a sister who has died of anorexia, a projection of her ultimate need for control. Her need for control soon becomes a need to hurt all those who have ever had control over Mona, and this is where the relationship becomes severely destructive.
Tamzin relishes the power that she gains from proving that Mona’s brother is a fraud, and from manipulating Mona into telling a repulsive lie to the wife of the married man she had been sleeping with. In Mona, Tamzin sees someone who is happy to relinquish control. Is this what she really desires? The ability to be able to be completely free to love someone; to completely give oneself to something as Mona has?
Mona, on the other hand, totally buys in to the fantasy that Tamzin has created. Feeling a sense of loss that her brother, the only family member she has left, is seeking some sort of enlightenment through means that she’s not familiar with, Mona finds her own sense of enlightenment through being part of the fantasy that Tamzin has welcomed her in to. She revels in the pretty clothes and the facade of being in love with someone; it’s something that she believes in completely.
However, whilst the friendship is certainly a destructive one, it is not an unhappy one. The two work together in harmony, and so long as Tamzin can remain in control and Mona can be lead by her shepherd, there is room for an almost genuine happiness, and indeed, an intense love. The problem only arises when the fantasy unravels.
It transpires that Tamzin may have used a bit of ‘poetic license’ when telling her stories, and Mona is met with nothing more than an unapologetic, albeit rather sheepish smirk, much to her devastation.
It is here we get our ‘resolution’. After sharing a kiss in the water (what might be seen as the happy ending to their fantasy), the knowledge that she has been lied to leads Mona to attempt to strangle Tamzin. In this instance, Mona has had her first independent reaction to someone that has hurt her. Mona has gained control over her controller, and in return Tamzin is allowed the ecstasy of completely succumbing to someone else; the ultimate happy ending.
Pawlikowski succeeds in exploring the purposeful intensity of teenage friendships. In the opening scene, we see Mona scrawling a self portrait on the wall of the prison she is kept in; her freedom arrives once she realises her fantasy. In that sense, the relationship between the two of them has served its purpose. And like a holiday fling, it’s over, leaving the viewer to relax safe in the knowledge that something has changed. It’s the ultimate coming of age love story.
(film reviewed for Kubrick on The Guillotine as part of their Teenagers in Love Series)


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