15:00 - 2nd October 2015, by NEO Staff

Au Revoir L’Ete

Having failed her university entrance exams, Sakuko (Fumi Nikaido) travels with her aunt Mikie (Mayu Tsuruta) to a rural coastal town so Mikie can complete the manuscript for her next book. With no idea what direction she wants her life to take, Sakuko needs little excuse to ignore her re-sit studies in favour of exploring her seemingly idyllic new surroundings and discovering the idiosyncratic personalities of its highly opinionated inhabitants.

Director Koji Fukada has cited the work of Mikio Naruse as an influence in his film-making career, but for those unfamiliar with Naruse’s films it could just as easily be said that Au Revoir L’Ete is to Japanese cinema what many of the movies of Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo are to South Korea. As such, Au Revoir L’Ete features a great deal of dialogue in fairly static conversational scenes, peppered with segments in which characters travel – for example by bicycle or foot – through stunning countryside vistas and beaches. In the process, these wanderings allow a gentle beauty to pervade the film to the extent that the surroundings come to feel like a character in their own right.

The film’s narrative is split into daily segments from Sakuko’s holiday (or journey, as it eventually turns out to be), each chapter heralded by an image of a lined notebook page containing only the day and date written simply in pen. On each successive day, the people that Sakuko comes into contact with all have a great deal to say. Their lengthy statements (often bordering on monologues) gradually shift from bright and breezy pleasantries through revelation ridden gossip to, ultimately, argumentative tirades. However as Sakuko quietly listens, gently responds and mentally assesses, it slowly becomes clear that all their sound and fury is in effect a subconscious smokescreen to cover what really needs to be said.

Only when the talking stops does the truth finally bubble up to the surface. A scene towards the culmination of Au Revoir L’Ete features a performance by a mime artist. Although the use of such an element may be less than original in such a dialogue-laden story, it nonetheless serves its purpose well, stating that actions always speak louder than words and underlining the fact that more can often be gleaned from looking behind a conversation than by listening to the words endlessly tumbling out.

Throughout Au Revoir L’Ete, director Koji Fukada references a number of contemporary Japanese social and political issues – the community’s disgust at a love motel masquerading as a ‘normal’ business, community leaders using their power to engage in sex with young women, and even the continuing scars caused by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. However, their inclusion serves more to simply affect the main characters than to appear as national topics for discussion.

Ultimately, Au Revoir L’Ete is an always gentle, often beautiful story of a young woman’s journey to discover who she is and what she wants, by way of a group of rather flawed but altogether average individuals.

The visually arresting scenery fits perfectly within the sedate pacing of Au Revoir L’Ete, lifting what otherwise could easily have been a dialogue-heavy drama. Repeatedly stating that truth is revealed only when conversation ends, director Koji Fukada has created a nuanced tale straddling individuals’ feelings and larger social issues within the coming-of-age story of his softly spoken heroine.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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