Photo: ‘Last Summer’/Netflix
There is no ignoring the fact that a film constructed around the seaside summer misadventures of an apprehensive lovesick teenager attempting to come into their own and form a meaningful connection with a flirtatious yet distant inamorato/a has been done before. In fact, there are likely thousands of film endeavors under this umbrella each with varying degrees of success and acclaim. From ‘City of God’ (2004) to ‘Call Me By Your Name’ (2017), this remarkably persistent sub-genre has already reached what may very well be its highest peaks.
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Nonetheless, the steady stream of adolescent angst seems to march ever-forward, its latest entry arriving in the form of the instantly recognizable yet refreshingly well-crafted ‘Last Summer’ (2021). Premiering on Netflix July 8th, the film marks the second collaboration between the streaming service and Turkish director Ozan Açiktan after the ill-received ‘One-Way to Tomorrow’ in 2020, proving a far more successful venture all-around.
‘Last Summer’ – ‘Geçen Yaz’
‘Last Summer’, or ‘Geçen Yaz’ as it was originally titled in Turkish, centers upon the youthful endeavors of the 16-year-old Deniz. Alongside his apathetic parents and free-wheeling older sister, he returns to his seaside summer home along the Turkish Mediterranean coast and attempts to reinvent his image from sheepish younger brother to tranquil teenage contemporary. Many of his and his sister’s friends have a hard time recognizing him, remarking over his newfound height and slenderness coupled with a more mature demeanor.
One such disbelieving acquaintance is Asli, a childhood crush two years older than him. Deniz’s forgotten affection is swiftly reignited, sending him on a silently resolute quest to win her over despite her age and boorish social circle. His efforts are soon thwarted by the arrival of the much-older Burak who threatens to derail both Deniz’s summer and tepid transition into adulthood. While never fully transcending its premise, the film combines the beautiful imagery of its stunning locale with admirably simplistic performances, ultimately proving an enjoyably uncomplicated watch.
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Commonality Begets Comfortability
As previously mentioned, ‘Last Summer’ is far from breaking any new ground in the realm of coming-of-age dramas or summer romances. Many may assume that the assertion of the film’s traditionality is a direct allegation of lack of ambition or imagination, but it is actually an affirmation of one of the film’s greatest strengths. A sleepy familiarity permeates nearly every frame of ‘Last Summer’, be it within forlorn idling or stolen glances, giving the largely directionless plot a subtle throughline of unarticulated emotions. For a film with quite a lot of dialogue, it is exceptionally quiet throughout, tying together a series of words not spoken and passions not acted upon into a loosely connected journey through self-discovery and the half-remembered haze of summer love.
The audience instantly understands the scenario present at the film’s outset, and as such, they afford the film the time and space to develop at its own gradual pace. The viewer has undoubtedly seen situations like this before, be it on-screen or in real life, but this only adds to the film’s remarkably pervasive mood and deconstructive sense of place. There is no shocking twist or reinvention of the formula, instead ‘Last Summer’ stays true to its humble admirations of capturing the beautiful impermanence of adolescent love. The final product does not demand an excess of attention from the viewer, instead allowing them to slowly soak in the essentials while floating in and out of the actual narrative alongside the characters.
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Impressive Location-Scouting Makes For a Feast of Calming Visuals
‘Last Summer’ offers a decidedly different portrait of Turkey than many moviegoers are used to receiving. With a cinematic history defined by films like Metin Erksan’s ‘Dry Summer’ (1963) and Yılmaz Güney’s ‘Hope’ (1970) and a modern filmic movement defined by the works of celebrated auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan like ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’ (2011), ‘Winter Sleep’ (2014), and ‘The Wild Pear Tree’ (2018), most contemporary audiences familiar with Turkish cinema are accustomed to a starkly grizzled and decidedly bleak landscape populated by equally grim personas.
With ‘Last Summer’, director Açiktan challenges these well-worn conceptions of the nation and its cinematic depiction, offering a ravishingly beautiful look at the sun-soaked beaches and Catalonian villas of the Turquoise Coast. Deniz and his crew explore the striking cliff-sides and winding streets of the nameless palatial town they are desperate to grow out of. The locations are made all the more dazzling by the impressive photography of first-time feature film cinematographer Maciek Sobieraj who keeps the camera kinetically moving and demonstrates an extremely keen eye for interesting visuals no matter how mundane the setting.
A Likeable Young Cast Full Of Debut Talent
The task of gathering the right combination of budding actors and actresses when assembling a coming-of-age cast has often proven the make-or-break factor in the film’s eventual success. The connections must seem believable, the appearances age-appropriate, and hopefully, at least one or two familiar faces can be snuck in to help audiences ease their way into the story. ‘Last Summer’ is fortunate enough to benefit from the first two of those traits, counteracting the third with a charismatic cast chock-full of undiscovered cinematic newcomers.
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The film benefits from the understated emotion of its surprisingly nuanced protagonist, Fatih Berk Sahin’s Deniz, allowing the audience an instantly relatable surrogate that both adheres to and subverts the trappings of the genre. Ece Çeşmioğlu’s beguiling Asli is another standout, matching wits with Sahin and never fully allowing the audience in on her true motivations. The cast is rounded out by small yet memorable performances from Aslihan Malbora as Deniz’s tough-loving yet sincere sister Ebru, Halit Özgür Sari as the mysteriously charming rival suitor Burak, and Eray Ertüren as the weasly friend of Burak and lover of Ebru Kaan. Each member of the cast succeeds in their roles, but the film lives and dies by the performances of Sahin and Çeşmioğlu. Their ever-evolving relationship defines ‘Last Summer’ both literally and figuratively, offering a satisfyingly honest and purposefully unobtrusive love story sure to deftly meander its way into audiences’ hearts.
By Andrew Valianti
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