"Faustine and the Beautiful Summer," now at the Outer Circle 2, opens with the dreamy teen-age heroine improvising a love scene to her pillow. This ardent motif is fair warning: The entire movie appears to grow out of the girl's erotic fantasies and virtually swoons from an intoxicating excess of pictorial romanticism.
The ideal season to play "Faustine" would probably be winter. Last January, for exmaple, the film's glorious evocation of the French coutryside in summer might have had customers literally swooning from shock and delight.
The picture remains a sumptuous photogenic spread by the standards of any moviegoing season, but the story is reduced to barely sufferable kitsch by writer-director Nina Companeez' inability or disinclination to wake up her Sleeping Beauty-alter ego, a Parisian schoolgirl named Faustine.
The scenario is supposedly an account of Faustine's summer vacation at her grandfather's farm. Most of her time is spent eavesdropping upon, peeping at and then attaching herself to a neighboring household, composed of two dignified, cultivated widower brothers, their children - a brood that includes two girls and two boyds about the same age as Faustine - and the tempestuous young second wife of one of the brothers. This magnificent amorous creature, portrayed by Mariane Egerikx, has an uncontrollable yen for one of her stepsons, Florent, played by Jacques Spiesser, whose poetic disposition and filial loyalty prove inadequate defense against stepmama's enticements.
The atmosphere is so rapturous that one could easily mistake this household for a figment of Faustine's overstimulated imagination. However, it is evidently meant to be apprehended as a real family that happens to be magically beautiful and melancholy too. Companeez might have turned a romantic conception into a romantic classic if Faustine had been allowed to pair off with the member of the family that most attracted her, Florent's brother Joachim, played by a remarkably attractive young actor, Francis Huster.
The movie ends with the heroine still romantically fixated on an older man, Mauriee Garrel, as the boys' uncle Jean. It seems a perverse, unsatisfying resolution for what one perceives as an erotic comedy about schoolgirl romanticism. The material demands someone her own age to awaken Faustine from her trance. Huster's Joachim looks like a perfectly charming suitor, but Companeez leaves him a rejected suitor. It's as if she'd grown too woozy from her own undeniably sensuous style of filmmaking to exercise sound storytelling judgement in the clutch.
Cinematographer Ghislain Cloquet, who shot Woody Allen's "Love and Death" a couple of years after "Faustine," which is getting into domestic theatrical release five years late, supports Companeez with color imagery so lush and warm that it can induce a form of auto-intoxication. There are moments when the photography really seems to be evoking tactile and olfactory sensations, such as the feel of sunshine, water and wind or the fragrance of flowers, fields, meals, skin and fabrics.
If Companeez had been able to resolve this fable pleasurably, one might have been able to announce the classiest foreplay movie ever made. Even with a bungled denouement, "Faustine" seems like a tastier romantic bill of fare than "A Man and a Woman" or "Elvira Madigan." The actresses themselves are nothing to sneeze at. Muriel Catala, the voluptuous babyface cast as Faustine, is such a ripe, humorously suggestive vision of post-Bardot teen sexiness that one is perpetually caught between leering and chuckling.
Isabelle Adjani, at the age of 16, made her second movie appearance in "Faustine," playing Jean's daughter Camille, who pines for her overmatched cousin Florent. Claire Vernet, a long-tressed blonde, plays her sister Claire, who pines like Lady Chatterley for a swarthy farmhand employed by Faustine's grandpa. The sight of all these gorgeous, longing females is calculated to be a turn-on, and if you take the precaution to slip away 10 to 15 minutes early and supply your own denouement, you may be able to recall it as a turn-on to savor.