The key to coming away from Pawel Pawlikowski's My Summer of Love with a rewarding intellectual (forget emotional) experience depends upon whether you care to embrace its point-of-view storytelling.
Absolutely nothing happens in this morose drama, adapted from Helen Cross' novel, that you don't anticipate. And Pawlikowski sets it all up as if taking cues from a handbook: Two young women of different social classes meet in the bucolic English countryside, grow fascinated with each other, form a friendship, kiss furtively, eventually have sex, share some raffish adventures, face inevitable conflicts, and then things wind up and wind down.
You can find Pawlikowski's film to be thought-provoking -- or perhaps, if you try really hard, even profound. I found it to be strictly by-the-numbers, and so intent on manufacturing its style and ideas that it leaves you with virtually no authentic sensation.
The Polish-born, Oxford-educated Pawlikowski films in sunlight or low light, whatever the mood requires, and he caresses his characters with his camera. That's page 24 in the Handbook, probably part of a chapter written by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski, a pensive Polish director whose work left me cold. (He made the trendy, turgid Red, White and Blue trilogy.) Either Pawlikowski's subtlety in My Summer of Love is off the map, or he equivocates to the point of meaninglessness. No matter: This is a tale of class psychological warfare, and you know which class ultimately gets the last laugh (if not the best seat in the house).
We meet the drama's de facto storyteller, Mona (Nathalie Press), as she sketches an image of a young woman on a wall (the working-class artist's medium). The story then flashes back seamlessly to the day she meets Tamsin (Emily Blunt), and the point-of-view motif begins: Mona is lying on her back in a field when Tam gallops up on her horse, and we observe Tam upside-down, just as Mona does.
Why would Tam, who reads Nietzsche, befriend this Eliza-cum-Carrie of the countryside? (Nathalie Press even slightly resembles Sissy Spacek.) Mona doesn't ask or doesn't think about it. For a while the story loses track of Tam's sophistication, just as Mona does, and when her cruel sense of prep-school entitlement returns, so does our common sense about her. Mona's beloved brother, a former hoodlum, is a born-again Christian and who's turned his once-convivial pub into a church. Is his transformation authentic? That's Mona's question -- and the cause of her anguished isolation from her only living family member. But as the story unfolds in illusory patches, we don't get a very thorough perspective on anything.
Press and Blunt are both deft actors, and Ryszard Lenczewski's cinematography is sumptuous: When the sunlight glistens off Mona's strawberry blond hair, you almost forget that a film crew made it happen. My Summer of Love is saturated with loneliness and despair. Yet it manages something of a perverse happy ending, at least as far as Mona is concerned.