Premiering in the Generation 14plus section at the Berlinale, Carlo Sironi’s second feature, “My Summer With Irene,” has only the whiff of a narrative. Mood, atmosphere, and emotional subjectivity gain precedence as the director aims to harness a peek into the inner lives of his two primary characters, Clara (Maria Camilla Brandenburg) and Irene (Noee Abita). They are seventeen-year-olds who stumble across each other at a medical retreat. The film deliberately skirts exposition or a broad glance at their backstories. All we know is that the summer retreat is supposed to take their mind off their sobering realities, both battling illness.

They drift. The lull is what Sironi excels in evoking. The unrushed, soft, and whisper-like tenor of the film may be initially frustrating and can potentially alienate a viewer seeking dramatic tension or the conventional beats of a drama that aren’t so distant from the terrain we are taken through. Sironi’s individual, brilliant touch is the way he purposefully chooses to excise all those elements and wholly submerges us inside the palpably fraying internal worlds of the girls. Though the film does have its share of spare dialogues, what endures are the sensory, delicate impressions Sironi induces.

Clara is reserved and withdrawn, preferring rather to snuck into a book than go out on an adventure. But an encounter with Irene shifts something within her. Irene oozes charisma and an easy confidence, sporting an audacity of being utterly open to the world that almost disconcerts Clara. Her free-spiritedness sparks a host of oscillating responses in Clara, who finds herself drawn in by her unassuming allure. On a camping trip, Irene proposes to Clara the idea of a sudden sneaky detour to the seaside, something which the latter had summarily expressed a desire for in an earlier, casual chat. Clara is initially hesitant but egged on, she takes the plunge.

My Summer with Irene (2024) ‘Berlinale’ Movie Review
A still from My “Summer with Irene” (2024)

As she tails the adventurous Irene, she is intimidated but also wholly fascinated by the unfettered scope that exists. Eventually, it is Irene who recedes, and Clara begins to assert and shine. The film entirely rests on the interplay of the duo, and how the actors feed off one another is critical to unlocking its psychological landscape. This is a film that opts to rein in information and demonstrates a boldness in its stark refusal to build easy, affective ties with its characters, letting us instead hang with them non-judgmentally and in a steadfastly laidback fashion.

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It’s an airy film, lending its cripplingly vulnerable, precarious duo a dignity of exploration that they mark out on their own terms. There are lovely moments where the girls are capturing people in their vicinity on their video cameras and filling in with their own cheeky, teasing imagined conversations. These delightfully rendered moments ring out with truth and a clear emotional simplicity.

Sironi doesn’t spend much time on how the friendship and deep trust between the girls take off; Clara clutches onto her at the start and grows to learn and hone her own space. There are the soft, subdued pangs of betrayal that Clara experiences when Irene embarks on random, off-the-bat expeditions with a group of strangers instead of curling up next to her. Observing her, Clara is emboldened to venture out and wander and allow herself to be whisked away by her impulse, things she had never envisaged herself doing.

Despite a thinly etched character, Abita conveys both a head-turning ease and a tremulous fragility. As Irene starts drifting off and almost dying out, the actress wordlessly harnesses an aching, hollowing emptiness. Brandenburg and Abita play off each other with a wonderful intelligence, belying their characters’ differences, how one rubs off on the other whilst suggesting a sharp sense of individual personhood.

“My Summer with Irene” has this hushed quality that slowly and firmly gathers an unshakeable force of its own. Its elegantly chiseled intonation of melancholy is powerful in its own understated right.

My Summer With Irene premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival 2024.

My Summer with Irene (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Letterboxd
My Summer with Irene (2024) Movie Cast: Noée Abita, Maria Camilla Brandenburg, Claudio Segaluscio, Gabriele Rollo, Beatrice Puccilli
My Summer with Irene (2024) Movie Genre: Drama, Runtime: 90 mins

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