A Certain Image of Humanity

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Review of 'My Summer of Love', director Pawil Pawlikowski

Pawil Pawlikowski's previous film, Last Resort, was deservedly praised for its sympathetic treatment of asylum seekers in Britain. His new film is not a disappointment.

He says he thinks that 'modern life is in danger of becoming spiritually bankrupt... Everything is measured economically or in terms of lifestyle, or appearance and the meaninglessness around promoting that.'

This time Pawlikowski's humane vision has been brought to bear on a West Yorkshire town. To give a short, somewhat clich├ęd summary, it's a sort of 'coming of age' film about a summertime romance between two young women.

One of them, Mona, is working class and she's lovely. She (sarcastically) aspires to get an awful job in an abattoir, marry a horrible bloke, churn out loads of kids and then hope for either the menopause or cancer. She didn't know her dad, and her mother did die from cancer.

Mona and her brother are living above the family pub - no longer in use - somewhere in West Yorkshire, but it could be an ailing small industrial town anywhere. Her brother, after a spell in jail, has now found religion big time. He's set up a born again chapel in the downstairs of the pub - having poured all the alcohol down the sink - and is building an enormous cross to be erected on the hills above the town. For Mona, he's thoroughly embarrassing but he's also frightening: there's danger, intensity and the possibility of violence lying not too far from the surface.

The other girl, Tamsin, is posh. Very posh. Privately educated, she meets Mona as she is riding around the countryside on her pony. (Mona is on a battered moped that doesn't even have an engine - but 'it only cost a tenner'.) Tamsin is spoilt, bored and lonely. She's also suffering from the adolescent illusion that to be interesting is to be tragic.

The friendship between Mona and Tamsin develops into something deeper over the course of the hot summer as they provide each other with fun, solace, excitement, comfort, sex and, ultimately, two very different means of escape.

The film is bathed in sympathy for the young working class girl whose previous experience of sex lacked affection or respect, let alone love. She's confused and bewildered by the life around her, yet emerges with strength and humour.

Pawlikowski seems to have a strong eye, and an ear, for the experiences of those who don't exactly fit in. He also knows that things are sometimes best said if you don't lay it on with a trowel. For instance, there aren't many characters in the film, and they are all white. When they get a taxi, we don't see the driver - we just hear 'Asian' music on the car stereo.

The acting is excellent - the two girls and the brother hold you completely throughout. I found My Summer of Love enchanting from the first few seconds to the last. I wouldn't miss it - not because it's a masterpiece or devastatingly original and scathing or anything like that, but because it's lovely in a small way.

Pawlikowski says the key thing for feature films is 'to save a certain image of humanity'. When Mona walks down the lane at the end of the film, you think he's succeeded.