Is it time to declare Louise Archambault Canada’s humanist filmmaker? Archambault’s recent offering One Summer, aka Le temps d’un été, is further proof that she captures the poetry of life in a way that few artists do. Much like her acclaimed dramas And the Birds Rained Down, Gabrielle, and Familia, and her recent TIFF premiere Irena’s Vow, One Summer favours quotidian moments to deliver a deeply refreshing and down to earth portrait of the common threads that unite us. Evoking the mastery of Pierre Perrault and Michel Brault, while intuitively harnessing a great sense of place in the fashion of contemporaries like Sébastien Pilote, Archambault delivers a delicately balanced, deeply moving story with One Summer.
These kind of stories can easily lapse into melodrama, but One Summer delivers its parable with great sincerity. With warmth and humour, it follows the exploits of Father Marc Côté (Patrice Robitaille) while he simply tries to provide some peace and comfort for a group of outsiders within his parish. One Summer offers a moving fable about how we treat our neighbours and how we would all do better to foster a sense of unity, rather than create divides.
De Montreal à Sainte-Blandine
Working with a screenplay by Marie Vien, who wrote the Quebecois mega-hit The Passion of Augustine and Canada’s under-the-radar Oscar submission 14 Days, 12 Nights, Archambault draws upon an arsenal of rich characters beginning with the endearingly fallible Father Côté. One Summer begins with the man of the cloth fully disrobed, so to speak, as he endures a post-coital quarrel. His lover groans that she’s sharing her man with his church. However, once Marc returns to his derelict parish and connects with the small band of parishioners, his dedication is clear. Few people use the church for religious practices, but the building largely serves as a shelter for Quebeckers who are underserved by social services in the area. Marc may be unorthodox, but whatever degrees from which he veers from the letter, he makes up in spirit. He truly has his community’s best interests at heart.
A decent sign that the man upstairs recognizes Marc’s commitment comes with some unexpected good news. Marc inherits property from an old family friend. It’s a beautiful summer home back where he grew up in Sainte-Blandine-sur-Mer. The deceased donor recognized many good years of friendship with Marc’s father. He pays him back by saying that he saw Marc as the son he never had. Marc therefore decides to share his good fortune with his peers who don’t have a roof over their heads. The church bills are piling up, anyways, and the summer getaway provides time for reflection and escape.
Father Marc’s Parish
The church’s mini-bus—what church doesn’t have one?—is filled to the brim with a band of characters who are mostly looking forward to the retreat. There’s kind but cranky Soeur Monique (Élise Guilbault), Father Côté’s comrade in arms at the church. Then there’s Angel (Marc-André Leclair) and their lover to whom they’re also a caregiver, Molo (Pierre Verville). Sam (Martin Dubreuil) is a war veteran reeling from PTSD that shattered his family life. Young couple Miali (Océane Kitura Bohémier-Tootoo) and Sébast (Justin Leyrolles-Bouchard) join the party while debating having a family of their own.
Madame Cécile (Louise Turcot), meanwhile, says little but stuffs corn kernels and other crumbs into baggies for safekeeping, even when the priest of Sainte-Blandine-sur-Mer (Gilbert Sicotte) invites the gang to the parish barbecue. Finally, drama comes largely through Maire Jean-Pierre Genin (Guy Nadon), a jovial alcoholic who sports his trench coat like a uniform all summer. Maire (“the mayor”) gives sound legal advice (no word if he’s really a lawyer) to Congolese asylum-seeker Julien (Cedric Keka Shako) and makes visits the dépanneur daily to check for news of the application (and picks up a few bottles while he’s there). Julien, meanwhile, spends the fateful summer worrying if it will be his last in Canada. He soaks in the sun if that’s the case.
A Collective Portrait
One Summer admittedly many characters among Father Côté’s small but unwieldy parish. There are enough players here to fuel a full season of summer fun in Sainte-Blandine-sur-Mer. However, while one could grumble that One Summer might have excised several characters before the cameras rolled, or dropped several during editing, they smartly form a communal portrait. One must also give Vien and Archambault credit for providing a fuller scope. No person in Marc’s community is a symbol, stock character, cliché, or thematic sign-post. One Summer could have tightened the script to, say, five characters who address certain groups—i.e. the LGBTQ+ character, the character with mental health issues, the immigrant, the sick person, and the elderly one. In favouring a collective, though, the film consistently keeps the social issues within the frame while growing the dimensions of the characters. Each character is a fully-formed human being.
The film provides a warm slice-of-life dramedy as the outsiders clash with some residents of Sainte-Blandine-sur-Mer. Marc’s inheritance irks the town’s resident NIMBY François Riendeau (Sébastien Ricard), who has been caring for the estate as a hired hand. He feels cheated that the priest got it instead and doesn’t hide his anger. The presence of homeless people only fuels his jealousy, although some residents take the view of charity. They’re blessed with a wonderful waterfront and know that the fresh air provides a reprieve from chaotic urban life. The cinematography by Mathieu Laverdière, who also shot Archambault’s exquisite And the Birds Rained Down, finds great serenity in the film’s strong sense of place. Natural light, golden hues, and magic hour shots by the water lend Sainte-Blandine-sur-Mer an air of a temporary oasis without romanticising the situation at hand.
Directed by a Master’s Hand
Strong performances by the ensemble, especially Robitaille and Nadon, fuel this bittersweet fable about neighbourly goodwill. Despite the Christian premise, One Summer preaches a universal message about shared traits with our fellow man. Moreover, the film refreshingly avoids patronizing characterizations that too frequently appear in stories that deal with homelessness or mental illness. There are messy moments, awkward confrontations, and tragedies that arise in the fish-out-of-water scenario that Marc creates. In doing this, though, One Summer observes how the fun-in-the-sun getaway isn’t adequate substitutes for social services, trained counsellors, and rehabilitation therapists. There’s no Band-Aid solution for the problems that Marc’s community faces.
Yet Achambault’s deft hand with the actors and the story forges a therapeutic relationship through the synergy of people and places. The film invite audiences to look closer at the characters in their midst. Everyone in One Summer feels like someone who a member of the audience could easily pass by on a busy urban street. The film offers a poignant challenge to do more than simply avert one’s eyes. It reminds us of all the stories waiting to be told.