An isolated house in the country, a small tribe of peculiar characters mostly keeping a wary distance from each other: That Kind of Summer (Un Ete Comme Ca) is a film set up perfectly for the pandemic era. The bonus zinger is that the house is a live-in retreat for supposedly, or maybe just possibly, recovering sex addicts. Nobody leaves, and everyone talks dirty. Denis Cote, the prolific Quebecois provocateur, must have been hugging himself when he thought of that one.
Cote’s previous feature, made during Canada’s strictest lockdown, was wittily titled Social Hygiene. It was filmed on a hillside, where a succession of different women hurled abuse at a man who had offended all of them; he looked and sounded as if he had just wandered on set from a Dostoevsky novel. By comparison, That Kind of Summer is quite conventional. At least we know the sex addiction program lasts just 26 days, so there will be a beginning, middle and end.
There is some thematic continuity, however. Once again, a bevy of women surrounds a single, seemingly hapless man. Three inmates – all young women, barely out of adolescence – are supervised by Octavia (Anne Ratte-Polle), a German academic who was treated for sex addiction herself once. Mathilde (Marie-Claude Guerin), the program’s formidably sinister founder, is taking a year off from running the retreat directly because she is heavily pregnant, but she keeps popping up – ostensibly to make Founders’ Day speeches but clearly also desperately missing whatever perverse pleasure it gives her.
The final woman in this edifice is Diane (Josee Deschenes), a cook who clearly wonders what kind of madhouse this is. Then there is the single man in this hothouse: Sami (Samir Guesmi), a youth worker who tells them he is there because “I love people, I really do.” Wouldn’t you run a mile from anyone who said that in a warmup session at a sex addicts’ retreat? I suppose it’s hard to know.
The addicts are a mixed bunch. Gaelle (Aude Mathieu), who says everyone calls her Geisha, has a shaven head and multiple piercings and never saw a football team she couldn’t take on at halftime. She immediately makes Sami her target. There are plenty of men who pay $300 for her, she reasons, so how can he turn down a freebie? Leonie (Larissa Corriveau) is a masochist who chooses to spend her day off tied up like a leopard caught in a rope trap but is troubled by her visions of the father who set her on this path. Eugenie (Laure Giappiconi) does wonderful drawings in the small hours, at least when she isn’t having sex with truck drivers.
None of them has any friends. When Eugenie is given her phone for her allotted daily 90 minutes, she watches some pornography and then sets it aside; she has nobody to call. At one point, Geisha suggests they could all keep in touch after the retreat, like real friends. The others mumble assent, but they look doubtful. All say in their therapy sessions that they think about sex all the time, but they sparkle like children when they are taken canoeing or horse riding. The kinds of things children love, in fact.
Cote, who always will choose a pan over a cut, swings his camera from face to face around the group as if looking for an unexpected connection or an unconscious gesture. No matter what he does, however, it remains unclear what he wants to discover or tell us about these unreformed Lolitas, just as the ultimate purpose of the program remains blurry. The institution itself echoes the sinister facilities in early Cronenberg films – what is it with Canadians and weird medicine? – while being much sunnier, not to mention funnier.
Cote is a prankster at heart. Perhaps he didn’t want to tell us anything. Perhaps he just wanted to get some rude words up on screen. And why not? That Kind of Summer is certainly entertaining. It doesn’t need to be anything else.
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