Sunday, 21 March 2021

MY FIRST SUMMER - BFI Flare Film Festival 2021 review

Raised in isolation away from the world, when 16 year old Claudia's mother unexpectedly passes away, she must rely on the help of local teen Grace to remain a secret. Hiding from the authorities at her idyllic, remote house, the innocent Claudia (Markella Kavenagh) and savvy Grace (Maiah Stewardson) form a close bond as they enjoy a summer filled with sunshine and feelings of first love.

Written and directed by Katie Found, My First Summer is an unashamedly bright and delightfully whimsical Aussie teen romance between two girls who find safety and calm in the presence of the other. With Claudia shielded from the horrors and delights the outside world has to offer, it falls to Grace to school her on her own experience of life as a teenage girl, longing to escape from her family home. Together at Claudia's house, they can indulge all of their dreams of a never-ending summer as they tentatively explore their feelings for each other.

With some gorgeous cinematography by Matthew Chuang, it's a delightful world to inhabit for the film's 80 minute runtime - all Australian sunsets and magic hour sunlight breaking through the trees. There's an element of fantasy in the set up (this dream house in the middle of nowhere is almost too perfect), like a long-loved memory of youth, but the film avoids the pitfall of overplaying the connection between Claudia and Grace, which feels genuine and heartfelt, even when the film goes heavy on cutesy iconography like charm bracelets, candy necklaces and lollipop rings. Kavenagh impresses as the (gradually less) insular Claudia, but it's Stewardson who steals the show in a role that could have appeared smart-alecky in the wrong hands, outfoxing the local police in order to protect Claudia. The interplay between the two leads seems natural and honest, and they share a number of tender, sweetly romantic scenes that make you wish nothing will arrive to disturb their world together.

Like a bedsheet drying on a clothes line in a summer breeze, My First Summer sweeps you up and carries you away to their world of youthful innocence, exploration, and naivety about how long their time together can actually last. It's the stuff of teen romance dreams, like a warm, sunny picnic filled with pure summertime love. Utterly captivating.

Verdict
4/5

My First Summer is screening as part of the BFI Flare LGBTIQ+ Film Festival. The full line-up can be found on the BFI Player here.

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