Blanco de Verano
starring Adrián Rossi, Sophie Alexander-Katz, Fabián Corres
written by Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson & Raúl Sebastián Quintanilla
directed by Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson
by Walter Chaw Aspiring for something like The 400 Blows with a young protagonist who looks and acts like 15-year-old Jean-Pierre Léaud, Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson's directorial debut Summer White seeks to explain the pain and occasional outbursts of a young man coming of age without the means to express himself. The film's style lies somewhere at the intersection of early Harmony Korine and Ken Loach: it's aggressively not-showy--so devoted to its austerity and so accomplished in achieving it, in fact, that its aesthetic humility becomes a kind of distraction. It looks beautiful. Maybe too beautiful. It looks like an Y Tu Mamá También while acting like a Ratcatcher or a Kes, and reconciling that dissonance begins to feel difficult. In the end, what disappoints most about Summer White is that I started to question whether the film wanted to be something for its own sake or if it was just something done by someone who'd seen a few Linda Manz movies and thought she was really great. I mean, she is, of course. Linda Manz is awesome.
It's a problem because every time Rodrigo acts out, his mother threatens to send him to live with his father, further destabilizing Rodrigo after what he's perceived as his father's abandonment. Look, I'm not Dr. Phil, but Summer White is painting with a pretty broad brush. None of the right questions are ever asked of Rodrigo, and the culture in which he's raising himself seems to be one entirely of abandoned cars where he pretends to drive, shirtless, arm hanging out the window and a cigarette dangling from his lips. Masculinity is on trial here, but more than that, it's suggested that Valeria has done great harm to her boy by...by what? By allowing him not to talk to his dad on Christmas when he calls? By not seeing a crisis arising in her son and then not knowing the right things to say and do to fix it? Summer White may actually be guilty of the masculinity it's ostensibly critiquing.
Through it all, the metaphors fly thick and heavy. Cars start or don't at pointed moments; a card game with dried beans as stakes features the boy going all in with his mother, the two of them covering their eyes to disguise their tells. Rodrigo decorates a derelict camper for himself to which he retreats, and then at the end, Fernando drives home a brand new camper for all of them. That this camper becomes a focal point for Rodrigo's jealousy is right exactly spot on the nose. Summer White--even its title referring to a loaded colour of paint the happy couple chooses to inaugurate their cohabitation--is so oppressively About Something that it doesn't leave a lot of room for its characters to just be. A small miracle, then, how well its cast does with the space it carves for itself. The actors are so good, in fact, that the film leaves a mark despite trying too hard to leave a mark. If only it had ended the way The 400 Blows does: inscrutable, mysterious, enigmatic--like adolescence, as it happens, and not at all like the Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs affirmation of unconditional love Summer White ends with instead. Programme: World Cinema Dramatic Competition