Sarkozy-era socioeconomic tensions form the backdrop for romantic entanglement and disintegration in A Burning Hot Summer, Philippe Garrel's laconic portrait of two couples striving to stay together. Painter Frédéric (Louis Garrel) and his actress wife, Angèle (Monica Bellucci), invite struggling actor Paul (Jérôme Robart) and his girlfriend Elisabeth (Céline Sallette) to Rome for the summer, only to involve them in their imploding relationship, brought about by past infidelities and Frédéric's aloof, domineering attitude. Tonally complemented by the Velvet Underground legend John Cale's moody score, Garrel's direction — exhibiting a fondness for long takes — has a charged tranquility that imbues the proceedings with edgy energy even when the plot fumbles around with superfluous asides (like Elisabeth's sleepwalking) or emphasizes its political divides too starkly via the differing worldviews of fat cat Frédéric and socialist pseudo-revolutionary Paul. Although Angèle's religious faith and Frédéric's belief in luck seem like strained attempts at adding heft to the material, the film nevertheless works up a potent dramatic restlessness, derived from the push-pull between an entitled, obsessive Frédéric and Bellucci's quietly chaotic Angèle. In Angèle's prolonged dance at a party with an alluring stranger, Garrel captures a striking, thrilling sense of the simultaneous constriction and freedom that's fundamental to monogamous love.
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