My Summer of Love

| June 16, 2005

It is dusk, and the large expanse of concrete making up a parking lot glows strangely underneath the lights from a streetlamp. As barren as a desert, the parking lot seems perfectly abandoned, except of course for a lone, white car, which rests in the center of the lot.
The car is by no means extraordinary, and in fact, clearly shows the years of wear and tear. But it is within this aged vehicle, that something both special and sinister occurs.
In a rough, and instinctual manner, two individuals make love in the back seat of the car. The space is quite small, creating a claustrophobic intensity as the figures bodies rub up against the faded, and torn seats. And as the car shakes alone in the deserted lot, the howls from within the vehicle can be heard with almost precise clarity.
Perhaps the most visually thematic illustration of the film, My Summer of Love, the new picture from Pawel Pawlikowski, offers up an extraordinary whirlwind of love, deception and ultimately salvation.
Beginning in the Yorkshire countryside, the story revolves around the character of Mona, played by Nathalie Press. With her long, red hair blowing in the breeze, Mona makes her way down an endless stretch of highway on a scooter who’s motor has gone out. While she takes time to rest alongside the road, she encounters a young woman riding a horse. The woman is Tamsin, played by Emily Blunt. The two quickly take a liking to one another, and proceed to spend nearly every waking moment from that point on together. This though, does not quite settle well with Mona’s older brother Phil, played by Paddy Considine.
Phil is a born again Christian. Having spent some time in prison for assault and robbery, Phil has returned to his hometown a changed man. Finding it more appropriate to seek comfort in God, rather than the temptations of the criminal life, Phil tries desperately to curb Mona’s liking for Tamsin. This though does not make an impression on Mona, and she continues to see Tamsin frequently, engaging in acts of vandalism, drug use and sex with her.
As the summer winds to an end, Mona believes Tamsin to be her life partner, and desperately wants to runaway with her. The thought of Mona running away with a delinquent angers Phil greatly, and he prevents Mona from seeing her by keeping her locked up inside their home. Mona manages to escape though, and heads for Tamsin’s home. It is upon her arrival at Tamsin’s residence, that Mona discovers Tamsin not to be the person she thought she was.
Through the actions of the characters and the locations in which the situations take place, a common thematic element can be pulled forth. Quite noticeably, is that of religion, and the goal of ultimate salvation. These desires and wants of the characters can most readily be recognized through the use of color motifs, and the settings in which the vital plot points of the story exist.
One of the more vibrant devices Pawlikowski uses to emphasize significant plot and character traits is that of color. In the film, the primary forces that exist are good and evil. So, naturally, these characteristics are visually represented through white and red. And although these are commonly accepted illustrations, Pawlikowski manages to manipulate the colors in such away that the familiar meshes with the surreal state of the film world.
An instance in which the color motif and the significance of the location go hand-in-hand is the building where Mona and her brother dwell. The building, having previously existed as a pub, is white and goes by the name The Swan. This physical description almost completely mirrors the initial reaction the audience gains from viewing the Phil character. Of course, having spent time in prison, Phil has been reborn into the Christian faith, and now conducts his own services in the converted pub. The exterior of the building being white, and the fact the pub is called The Swan, properly manifests Phil’s mindset. Generally, the swan is seen as a beautiful creature. Something of purity, which glides majestically on the surface of the water. But looks are often deceiving. And like the swan, Phil’s bite is hidden and unexpected. As displayed when he kicks Mona in the chest after getting angry with her.
Much like the use of white, the color red is also very much included to enhance the thematic components of the piece. This fact becomes most apparent through the Tamsin character. From the very onset, the viewer gets the idea that Tamsin is a temptress. By way of her words and manner, the young woman has crafted a personality which creates intrigue, but also danger. A prime illustration of this occurs when Tamsin first visits Mona at The Swan. Tamsin pulls up to the pub in an elegant, red dress, which blows slowly in the wind. As she makes her way to the front door, she passes Phil, and glares at him with a hypnotic and devious smile. It is from this action, that the audience catches a glimpse into the true personality of Tamsin. Besides the obvious choice of wearing a red dress, her words and body language are able to paint a portrait of someone who clearly has the intentions of ill will in mind.
Besides the use of significant color motifs in the film, Pawlikowski as well presents vital plot points and character development by means of specific locations and situational devices. These are incorporated significantly through the thematic element of religion; in particular, Christianity.
Take for instance, Tamsin’s residence. The home is tucked away from the rest of the town, and seems entangled in a net of trees and shrubbery. The architecture and atmosphere of the home immediately appears astounding, but like most of the appearances in the film, soon turns into deception. By this point, the audience has gathered that Tamsin is not what she seems. In a biblical sense, Tamsin’s home could be thought of as the Garden of Eden, with her of course playing the part of the tempting serpent. And it is through this temptation that Mona becomes entangled in Tamsin’s constant string of lies. Mona only realizes the physical beauty of the scene, rather than the dark skin waiting to expose itself.
In the overall sense, My Summer of Love is an exercise in deception. Through the use of illusionary devices, the three main characters live out lives which go against the workings of their true nature. Each one searches for something different. Whether it be acceptance, redemption or just plain mischief, the characters all end up failing in their pursuit of the make believe. Pawlikowski though, has not doomed his characters completely. Lessons have been learned, and the revelation of one’s real self has been manifested. In an early scene when Tamsin and Mona listen to the songs of a Parisian opera star, Tamsin says, “Crimes of passion are always forgiven.” And it is by this logic, that the fate of the characters becomes apparent. Their failings, which are very much heartbreaking, still lead them to a certain realization. It’s almost an awakening . Their eyes have been lifted from the world of the artificial, and instead, placed in the realms of reality. A lesson well taught, by a promising teacher; Pawlikowski.

About the Author:

Matthew Vasiliauskas is a graduate of Columbia University. His work has appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Berlin’s Sand Literary Journal, Chicago Literati and The Pennsylvania Review. Matthew currently lives and works in Los Angeles.
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