Review: What Will Summer Bring (2021)

courtesy of Viennale

Back in the day, the primary criterium to evaluate documentaries was truthfulness: if the footage seen on the screen corresponded perceived as truth. Viewers less trained in documentaries still tend to focus on precisely that. But in filmmaking, even documentaries are more about telling a convincing story that either is, or might be a true one. Technically speaking, Ignacio Ceroi’s festival-touring film What Will Summer Bring is a good example of docu-fiction that blends selected elements from the both worlds.

In winter (in European terms) or summer (in South American terms) of 2019/20, Ignacio “Nacho” Ceroi goes from Argentina to France to visit his girlfriend Mariana who went for a year of studies abroad in Toulouse. Not having much to do, Nacho buys a used “handy-cam” on e-bay, wanting to document his time and travails in Europe. However, the piece of equipment came with some previously shot material on its hard drive, so Nacho decides to explore that found footage rather than delete it and use the disk space for his own documentary.

One thing is leading to another and Nacho, with the help of Mariana as a translator, contacts the previous owner of the camera, a man named Charles, whom he asks whether he can use the found footage for cinematic purposes. Charles does not object and Nacho asks him to provide a bit of context for the filmed material that mainly consists of typical home movies of his family, the dogs, the parties, the gatherings and the walks in the nature they have together.

At that point, Charles takes over as the narrator (except for some brief intermissions narrated by Nacho) to tell the story about his life after he retired from work in the Airbus factory. He then moved to Montpelier, got three dogs to cure the depression of the retirement age by walking them. When he was not in the nature, he enjoyed the company of his wife, his sister and his brother-in-law who is a unique character and an avid cook, just like Charles himself. Charles even tried to start a business renting the storage space, employing two nice young guys, but it went bust. After the hard times hit him, he turned to an old family friend who fixed him a temporary gig as a driver for the French Embassy in Cameroon.

The film idea to juxtapose an unsuspecting (white) man from The Metropole with the setting of a former colony might seem dated, but it is not that simple. Firstly, because of the circumstances that include a secession movement and civil unrest that is deeply rooted in the colonial history. Secondly, because of Charles’ inquisitive, almost philosophical nature that takes him on a constant soul-search trip, physical as well as mental, whether he helps a woman go to her sister’s home in a far away town, or he embarks on a search for a missing soldier in the jungle.

The trick is that none of the things about Charles and the footage has to be truth, and Ceroi discretely signals it early on. Charles, his family and the people he met in Cameroon might be completely fictitious, from the names to the relation to the roles they played in Ceroi’s story. There are some warning signs that are not that hard to spot, but only after the movie-watching experience. That way, Ceroi channels the energy of Chris Marker: creating the multitude of layers of fiction and reality in order to make a film-essay on the topics of ageing, colonialism and the things we do to keep our mind occupied.

Technically speaking, What Will Summer Bring is a bravura of low-fi filmmaking, especially regarding collaging of material from different sources. With the help of his co-editor Hernan Rosselli, Ceroi blends all of the material into a smooth whole, sticking to the chosen aesthetics and creating a sense of continuity interrupted only by the deliberate dramaturgical and directorial decisions. The device of the narrator (some viewers might find lethargic, though) is in this case quite powerful, and used properly. What Will Summer Bring is a masterwork of storytelling and a good, wholesome film experience.

The film screens at Viennale.

Original title: Qué será del verano
Year: 2021
Runtime: 86’
Country: Argentina
Languages: Spanish, French, English
Directed by: Ignacio Ceroi
Written by: Ignacio Ceroi, Mariana Martinelli
Cinematography by: Ignacio Ceroi, Mariana Martinelli, Charles Louvet
Editing by: Ingnacio Ceroi, Hernan Rosselli
Sound by: Hernan Biasotti
Produced by: Franco Bacchiani, Ignacio Ceroi, Victoria Marotta, Celia Pisano, Jerónimo Quevedo
Production companies: Esquimal Cine, Un Puma
Distribution by: Un Puma