A lazy late-summer weekend is disrupted by a shocking allegation in Endless Summer Syndrome, which closed the recent Írán:ci Film Festival in Prague. This French-language feature debut from Prague-based Iranian director Kaveh Daneshmand tackles taboo subject matter in stark and uncompromising fashion, to devastating effect.
Endless Summer Syndrome stars Sophie Colon as Delphine, a lawyer and mother of two adopted children, whose vacation in a French commune is rattled by an anonymous phone call in the film’s opening scene. The caller claims to be a colleague of Sophie’s husband Antoine (Mathéo Capelli), and tells her that while blackout drunk at a recent party, he confessed to something unthinkable: an intimate relationship with one of the couple’s children.
The caller hangs up before identifying herself, and could easily be—as Delphine points out—just someone looking to cause trouble. But as she observes teenage children Aslan (Gem Deger) and Adia (Frédérika Milano) with their father by the pool, Delphine can’t help but wonder if the accusation has any merit, and spends the next two days conducting her own investigation on the sly.
And as Delphine observes her family, Endless Summer Syndrome cannily observes Delphine: her own insecurities manifest themselves through how she deals with the issue (note an early confrontation with 16-year-old Adia), and ultimately reveal the depths of her own soul. Director Daneshmand asks a lot of Colon, in her first starring role, but the actress skillfully drives the narrative through studied reaction.
The conflict in Endless Summer Syndrome could be addressed, if not resolved, if the characters were able to speak to each other. But the subject is too taboo to even verbalize, with dialogue often replaced by knowing looks and empty stares.
The topic of incest is rarely addressed in cinema, for the same reasons the characters here can’t bring themselves to openly discuss it. Depictions can run from the somewhat sympathetic portrayal in Bernardo Bertolucci’s La Luna to the unflinching horror of Tim Roth‘s The War Zone.
Endless Summer Syndrome, meanwhile, takes a disturbingly objective approach by allowing the events of the film to speak for themselves and forcing us to confront our own feelings about what is being presented on the screen. Those seeking to be guided by a strong moral stance won’t find it here, but viewers in search of challenging and provocative material will be richly rewarded.
We’re also explicitly asked to examine our own prejudices in assessing the accusation. Would we feel differently if the children were biological instead of adopted? What if the gender of the victim was reversed? What about their age?
Colon is a standout in this four-character drama, but the rest of the cast is equally compelling in their portrayal of family members who may be harboring dark secrets. The script, by the director, co-star Deger, and Laurine Bauby, invites us into the family’s world by glimpsing these characters in intimate moments through the first half of the film… before leaving us feeling hollowed out by the end.
Shooting with a film-like saturated color palette that evokes some nostalgic summer memories, cinematographer Cédric Larvoire also utilizes a 4:3 aspect ratio to insert us into the family dynamic. The result is initially intimate but slowly grows claustrophobic, uncomfortably trapping the viewer within the boxy frame alongside the protagonists.
Endless Summer Syndome filmed on location in the French commune of Corrèze, and while the majority is set within the confines of the family cottage, some skillful location work including scenes set by a large reservoir underscore the film’s central themes.
A co-production between the Czech Republic and France, the film was awarded the 2022 Works in Progress Award by the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival before premiering at last year’s Talinn Black Nights Film Festival.