catherine corsini on her gay, feminist romance 'summertime'

“I didn’t want shameful lesbians, or lesbians for straight people’s convenience. No opportunity for guys to come watch some skin.'

by Colin Crummy
Sep 12 2016, 2:26pm

Catherine Corsini did not consider herself a feminist before Summertime, her sun-soaked, sexy homage to the women's movement in 1970s France. "Growing up, I did not identify with feminism because I had internalized, preconceived ideas on feminists," she says. "I realized my mistake with time, seeing the little progress on addressing gender pay gap and women's place in French society."

These issues ignite the Parisian feminist movement in the summer of 1971 but in Summertime, Corsini's real focus is the spark between one of its leading lights (Carole) and a fresh face (Delphine) who's just come to the French capital from the countryside. The women arrive at their romance from different backgrounds: the cosmopolitan Carole has a boyfriend; Delphine is a farmer's daughter whose tired of dalliances with village girls. After hooking up in Paris, the lovers retreat to the countryside for a summer of love and a showdown with Delphine's mother. Here, the director talks through the sex and politics of that Summertime.

The film is a tribute to 1970s feminists. What sparked the decision to do this now?
I thought it was a beautiful, rich period that cinema had rarely exploited. And when it did, it was often with clichés. I wanted to recreate the atmosphere, the energy, the scents, the emergence of women's voices.

Delphine is a complex character. She happy being gay but conflicted about what it means in the wider world. Is that duality something you were keen to portray?
Delphine knows she loves women and she is certain about her sexual preferences. But she does not accept her sexuality when she is in her community where she was born. She is afraid of her mother's gaze. For Delphine, her mother is like God; to Carole, the mother evokes the devil. The mother also represents the village, the countryside. Delphine does not dare to confront her. I wanted to show that duality in her. High self-awareness but also a painful barrier.

The film is semi autobiographical. How so?
Just like Carole, I was seduced by a woman while I was living with a man. And like Delphine, I was very inhibited in my relationships with women. Same issue with my mother.

How did you want to portray men in the film?
My approach was to not make them look idiotic but instead to portray intelligent, respectful men, who are also ambivalent. Manuel, Carole's boyfriend, is a Maoist activist who tries to not behave like a "bourgeois" and who avoids being the primitive possessive man. He is torn between his pain and his activist position.

There is a sense that Delphine's mother -- while seemingly unaware of the gay relationship being conducted under her roof -- may be swayed into accepting it. Did you think about this being the case, or did you always feel it inevitable she would not accept it?
No, I wanted to show that she could accept the relationship but the social pressure forbids her. Clichés die hard. When she dances with Carole, there seems there's a chance of acceptance but as soon as she knows, she cannot stand it. It is knowledge that she is afraid of. As we say in France, "she does not believe her eyes." But I never wanted Monique to accept it. I thought it was good to impose that barrier to Delphine.

The nudity in the film is explicit but never feels exploitative. I wondered how much this might be down to you as a female filmmaker?
I really couldn't tell. I wanted to show love with joy, pleasure, happiness. I didn't want shameful lesbians or lesbians for straight people convenience. No opportunity for guys to come watch some skin. But a true and simple love story, like a painting by Renoir or Monet. Sensuality and flesh.

We see lots of body hair, from pubic to armpit, all beautifully shot. How important was it to capture?
That is how it worked. I thought it was beautiful to show that back then, those were the beauty standards. I fancied going back in time and showing how it really was.

Were you conscious of avoiding any feminist clichés or stereotypes in the film? If so, what were they and how did you seek to get around them?
It was more to explain why those women shouted and screamed: it is because they had never had a voice. To show that it was a novel thought being invented. There were called witches but when you look at photos from that period, you realized these were pretty girls full of life.

How did this -- as your first collaboration with your partner and the film's producer, Elizabeth Perez -- influence the writing and shooting of the film?
It took courage. Our relationship could have broken up; we worked in harmony and mutual respect. That's what we tried despite our personalities. But we had a common goal, to succeed in making this film and being proud of our collaboration. We talked freely about everything. Elizabeth pushed me and it felt good.

Summertime is on DVD September 12.


Text Colin Crummy

catherine corsini