Judge William Lee had a memorable summer fling in 2004. He would never throw a Frisbee like that again.
A young girl's brazen sensuality inspires lust and jealousy during a family's summer vacation.
Simmering passions are indulged during sunny, carefree days in Stefan Krohmer's Summer '04. But the reckless impulses of the heart have consequences that last beyond the seasonal fling. Similarly, we may have affection now for Fox Lorber's efforts in bringing this movie to DVD complete with some interesting supplements; but down the road we may resent you for the merely adequate video and audio presentation.
Facts of the Case
Miriam and Andre appear to be living a pleasant middle class lifestyle complete with summer vacations at the cottage and lazy days spent on the river in their sailboats. If their marriage isn't loveless, it is starting to feel stale. When their teenage son, Nils, brings his new girlfriend to stay with them, frustration and secret desires come to a head. The 12-year-old Livia is mature for her age, and more sexually restless than Nils, so when she meets Bill, a handsome stranger, the family is understandably cool toward her new friend. Miriam, especially, has strong doubts that the relationship between the girl and the older man is innocent. As she tries to steer Livia away from him, however, Miriam's own sensual desire threatens to override her better judgment.
Summer vacation has a magical quality about it that makes time seem to stand still. For adults, it's about working on the house or in the garden, trips to the country and a time to bond with the kids. For teenagers, it can be carefree days doing nothing and summer romances. Long days blend into long days and it feels like there is all the time in the world. Until there isn't, and those little choices cause permanent consequences.
Summer '04 perfectly captures that sense of lazy, endless days when nothing much seems to happen and no great loss for it. These characters have problems to work out, but if not today maybe next day. The pacing is a bit slow at first but the story gradually picks up momentum. There is no violence in this movie but the suppressed resentment, the distrust, and the sexual longing that connect these characters add up to a tense drama. Good performances by the entire cast make the situation, and their characters' decisions, entirely believable.
Martina Gedeck (The Lives of Others) puts in a rich performance as Miriam, a woman who is fairly happy in her marriage but whose passion is ignited by the stranger in their lives. Her impulse to protect Livia from her reckless curiosity is genuine at first. As her own attraction to Bill grows, Miriam seems to be aware that her jealousy is influencing her actions, yet she is determined to follow a path that could destroy her family.
Robert Seeliger (Fay Grim) brings worldly (and world-weary) charm, handsome looks and a disarmingly broken German accent to his role as Bill. The heir to a sports management business, Bill has spent many years in America but the phoniness has worn him out and now he's happy to be spending his summer fixing up his big, empty country house. In Livia's fresh and cheery spirit, something engages Bill like nothing before and it is something he thinks he needs. "The main thing is he knows where to stop," Miriam observes. Indeed, Bill could make the right decision if only he weren't surrounded by such strong temptation.
Svea Lohde (Rosenstrasse) is convincing as the playfully flirtatious Livia. However, her role is a little underwritten and we don't get to see that mature aspect of her personality that is so endearing to Bill. There is also an interesting tension between frustrated father, Andre (Peter Davor), and moody son, Nils (Lucas Kotaranin). Andre can just barely contain his disappointment that his son is not more assertive. "It's not my job to look after your girlfriend," he tells his son. Nils on the other hand only wants more privacy and it isn't clear that he even wants a girlfriend. The father-son story is one plot thread that isn't neatly tied up in the end. It's going to take more than one summer to sort out the baggage within this family.
The picture on this DVD is mostly satisfying aside from a few flaws. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image is modified from the theatrical 1.85:1 presentation (reported on IMDb). There are just a handful of shots that look as though some picture information has been sacrificed on the sides but overall the compositions work just fine. There isn't a wide range of contrast but image detail is good throughout and the colors appear very natural. Most scenes look warm and sunny without resorting to overly sun-drenched hues. There is a whisper of edge enhancement that is not distracting but definitely noticeable. During some of the sailing scenes, for instance, the haloing effect around the actors really stands out against the sky.
The basic audio track focuses on the actors' dialogue. There is almost no music on the soundtrack, but environmental background effects fill the aural space with the sounds of summer. The limited stereo mix does what it needs to do and the dialogue is strong and clear.
The main supplement is a 17-minute making-of featurette that provides an interesting look at life on a low budget set. It's a casual behind-the-scenes piece, but a few unique touches make it more revealing than the usual promotional fluff. Much is made of the fact that actor Robert Seeliger is not fluent in German. Other cast members express their worry about Seeliger's performance given his trouble with his lines. We see Seeliger working with his dialogue coach to develop his accent of a German who has been living in America most of his life. It is also interesting to see the small crew filming the sailing scenes on the open water for real. Director Stefan Krohmer is reluctant to step in front of the camera and unfortunately he never explains why the title was changed from the original Summer '01 on the Schlei, as the cast members refer to the movie. A selection of "deleted scenes" is also included on the disc. There is actually only one scene that was not used in the finished movie. The other clips are of alternate angles and extended takes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The slow pace of the first act will put off some viewers. Admittedly, during the first 30 minutes, I felt restless. It takes a little patience before the story effectively draws you into the lives of these characters. Director Krohmer also starts things off right in the midst of the family's vacation, presenting the family in a casual manner that takes familiarity for granted. Some viewers may recognize certain behaviors and attitudes that make these characters instantly sympathetic, but others may need time to warm up to them.
Summer '04 requires a little patience, but it is worth the effort. Good acting makes this observation of a family's suppressed unhappiness sympathetic and quietly compelling. The untidy ending will leave viewers wanting more, but honestly, that's what it feels like when summer vacation ends.
The filmmakers are pardoned from the obligatory task of writing "what I did on my summer vacation" essays.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
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