BFI Flare ‘My First Summer’ Review: Beautiful and Strange Story of First Love

After her mother commits suicide, hermitic young woman Claudia (Markella Kavenagh) hides in the house, avoiding authorities. Completely unknown to society, she is only able to survive with the help of beautiful stranger, Grace (Maiah Stewardson). Grace relishes the chance to be away from her unhappy family. The two are bound by their secret and by a deepening affection for each other.

The film effectively portrays the adolescent sense of a private world. The unique sensuality that comes with first love that feels as though it’s all happening for the first time, invented by it’s practitioners. It’s a delicate world that’s easily disrupted by the mere presence of an adult. The conceit of the premise further emphasises the fragility of their beautiful world, which risks discovery and destruction constantly.

With that, of course, comes the fatalistic sense that it all will come crashing down as soon as the adult world takes notice. It is an adolescent perspective, in which, first love is the only love and identity can only be explored in total freedom. But it’s a relatable experience, richly evocative of the fears and delicate joys of youth. It’s not an endless summer, but a summer that feels near-end at all times due to the stakes of the plot.

The chemistry between the leads is very natural and warm. Markella Kavenagh plays naïve without caricature. She’s clever and determined but deeply wounded by her mother’s actions. Trust comes slowly to her, but she’s desperate to find the love she’s lost. Stewardson, meanwhile, provides an authentic impression of a young girl who doesn’t know who she is, but knows she doesn’t want to be her parents.

The ever presence of natural sounds and wonderful shots of the Everglades around them creates a peaceful and absorbing internal world. But it’s also a film about grief and trauma. Claudia’s mother haunts every room of the house. The rituals and rules that bound their lives together are held thickly in the air. Hers is a relatable story to any child who has had to outgrow their parents and any child who has had to decide they know what’s best for their life.

My First Summer is a charming film that will appeal to those still living through their own period of youthful turmoil and those who can now look back and perhaps fondly remember the days when the whole world could fit within a small garden, or even in a single gesture.

Five Stars

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