Small-time actor Paul (Jérome Robart) serves as a Nick Carraway–like witness to an impossibly beautiful duo whose Euro-hipster glamour obscures a romance in ruins. Painter Frédéric (Louis Garrel, the director’s son) and movie star Angèle (Monica Bellucci) invite Paul and his girlfriend, Élisabeth (Céline Sallette), to spend the summer with them in Rome, where they parry between worshipping and punishing, adoring and despising each other. The specter of tragedy hangs over a spiraling affair: When Angèle runs off with her lover, Frédéric’s red-hot jealousy warps into a lethal case of the blues.
Love and death couldn’t be more closely intertwined than they are in Philippe Garrel’s latest boho melodrama, and like most of the French auteur’s work, it has a near-adolescent purity of purpose in how it handles love and loss. It’s unsurprising that the younger Garrel’s predilection for emotional daredevilry is perfectly exploited, but pinup beauty Bellucci is the revelation here, playing a woman condemned by adoration and dependence. “Men always blame you for what they do to you,” she says, with both resentment and resignation. There are subtler, more allusive films about stormy conflicts of the heart, but A Burning Hot Summer wisely knows when and how to surgically slice directly to the bone. It’s a bad romance of the highest order.
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