Review: Summer with Hope

Written and directed by Sadaf Foroughi, a prestigious competition sets the stage for a conspiracy of collusion between two young swimmers, family members, and their communities. Starring: Mehdi Ghorbani, Leili Rashidi, Kiarash Anvari, Benyamin Peyrovani, Alireza Kamali, Milad Mirzaei and Sanaz Najafi.

First off, though the title may suggest something heart-warming, romantic or adventurous, be prepared for the toll this film is ready to take. This is a story of struggle, prejudice and oppressive societal expectations. For the most part this story works very well, it has great pacing to keep you plugged in and has plenty of variation to its intensity to keep things interesting throughout. The family conflict is compelling and built with very independent and strong personalities, but has an underlying warmth and understanding. However, introducing queer themes which ultimately end up taking a large stake in this story, was a misstep because they’re so underplayed, that no real justice can be given to them. They had the potential to create a hugely memorable and impactful story, it’s still solid but there was more to be gained.

However, right from the start and all the way through, it has a strong aesthetic. There’s a great use of colour and it captures a striking image, especially in its use of natural landscapes. Although, it has an overriding tendency to keep its characters at a distance which feels as though it takes away from the emotions of the story. It’s keeping them at arm’s length, especially in that Sadaf Foroughi’s direction employs a number of obscured shots. Focusing a touch too much on details, which can at times work against rather than with the performances.

There’s a definite intimacy to this story, visually it may be much wider but the focus creates a more personal and close atmosphere. Mehdi Ghorbani’s Omid is the heart of that, he’s young and naïve but also stubborn, confident and pragmatic. His performance gets more emotional as time goes on and is one of the key elements that feeds into the film’s intensity. Especially when it’s alongside Kiarash Anvari’s Arash, the two have a constant sparring that adds a nice edge and a combustible quality. While Leili Rashidi adds a level, rational persona, she’s perfectly maternal in that she clearly shows her care and love but she’s also not afraid to push back. Benyamin Peyrovani then adds a completely different element with his initially cheery and positive outlook, which brings a certain sweetness.

Summer with Hope is a captivating family drama but there are a few threads left loose and missed opportunities. There’s a strong cast at work capturing conflict with grace and intensity without ever becoming over-dramatic. The cinematography and visual are strong with a compelling use of colour and landscapes but its reliance on obscure or overly wide shots can take away from the emotional atmosphere. It’s especially disappointing that its introduction of queer themes into the story goes so understated, avoiding showing or overtly talking about it or even clarifying. It leaves things on a mixed note for what is otherwise a well made film.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2022

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