What happens to the relationships you forge in high school, in your hometown, when you leave for greener pastures? That’s the central question of Mark Thiedeman’s lyrical narrative feature “Last Summer.” This lovely, honeyed little film won him the best director prize at the Little Rock Film Festival. While his movie may not be an easy catch for distributors, Thiedeman has a distinctive voice and style that make for a standout Outfest feature.
Most of the time the bonds formed in young adulthood whither, but you try your best to keep them intact. Luke (Samuel Pettit) and Jonah (Sean Rose) are in the final halcyon months of their long-term relationship before Jonah abandons their small town in the rural South for college. Where Jonah is ambitious with good grades and goals, Luke is an athlete in summer school befuddled over his future and unsure of his aspirations. Over the course of a languorous 70 minutes, we watch their love unravel amid the sweeping currents of change and maturity.
And that’s about as deep as the film goes in terms of plot. Heavy on visuals with a screenplay that could probably fill mere pages, “Last Summer” hypnotizes you with its sleepy lull as director Thiedeman locates emotions in objects, entangled body parts and bucolic scenery rather than character, dialogue and drama. Smeared with impressionistic imagery, droplets of water trickling down window panes and uncomfortable facial close-ups, the film resembles a collection of old dusty Polaroids. The influence of Terrence Malick or early Lynne Ramsay can be felt.
Light on traditional narrative machinery, this could have been a short film. But its prolonged spell, deeply felt long after the film is over, would not have been as effective. “Last Summer” sustains that pit-in-the-stomach feeling throughout, and the anxiousness and uncertainty of being so young and so small and not knowing where you’re going. This is a sweet surprise.
“Last Summer” plays Outfest Saturday July 13, 9:30pm at Harmony Gold Theater and Tuesday July 16, 12pm at Sundance Sunset