Yes, this is a film that involves transvestites, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you are getting a film along the lines of La Cage aux Folles. Not that much fun to be had here. Think more along the lines of a British period piece and you’ll go in prepared for the slow pace of director Mario Fanfani’s debut film, Summer Nights.
It is 1959 and France is involved in a war with Algeria. Michel (Guillaume De Tonquedec – La Double Vie de Véronique) is married to Hélène (Jeanne Balibar – Grace of Monaco) and has taken over his father’s notary practice. They are upper middle class folks and as such own property in the countryside. Using the excuse he is going there to work without any distractions, Michel often retreats there on weekends. What he is doing there his wife has no idea about. It is not an affair he is keeping from his wife, rather it is the fact that he loves to dress up in women’s clothing. On weekends Michel becomes Mylène.
Michel is leading a double life. In his everyday life he is a respectable man of the bourgeoisie who loves his wife, adores his son Jacky and is running in the chamber elections at their social club. On the weekend he becomes Mylène, a bourgeois woman who is friends with Flavia (Nicolas Bouchard – Dans la Cour) or his friend, the town tailor, Jean-Marie.
Not much happens over the 144 minutes of Summer Nights. It is just a question of waiting until Hélène will find out the truth about her husband and what will happen to their marriage and lives. Part of the problem is that Fanfani, who was also a co-screenwriter, does not devote any time to character development. We have no idea why anyone is behaving as they do or how what led to them becoming the people they are.
There is also another frustrating element of the film in that there is a rather interesting subplot involving Hélène and her standing up at the club and speaking out against France being at war with Algeria. A tenuous link is made between husband and wife and the changes they are undergoing or more precisely that they are allowing their true selves and identities to come out, but it is just touched upon and not really gone into in any depth. A woman in the fifties trying to break away from being seen as an individual rather than just a housewife. Ball is dropped.
This picking up smaller stories and just dropping them becomes even more so of a bad habit when another subplot involving a young man dubbed Cherub (Mathieu Spinosi), a soldier with plenty of trepidation about joining the war in Algeria. He is literally picked up by Flavia/Jean-Marie after getting piss drunk one night at the club Flavia performs at along with Tinkerbell (Serge Bagdassarian), Callipyge (Jean-Benoit Mollet – first film), Hermine (Zasie de Paris), and Suzy Corridor (Clément Sibony The Tourist, French Kiss) is not gone into in anyway near enough depth. It peaks your interest with the attraction/repulsion that Cherub feels for the transvestites, but then does not wrap it up in a satisfying way in the least. Too much in the film is dealt with as a concept rather than a reality. It is like playing a frustrating game of “What If”.
On the positive side, the scenes of the song performances are great. Songs like “Le Spectre de la Rose” With the semi-dark rooms and great costumes making for fun examples of opposites working well together.
Farfani’s film is not about sexuality rather about escape. Escape in many forms, for many people. Michel’s escape to his country place and into women’s clothes puts distance between him and social mores, politics, war, and the bourgeoisie.