Claudia has been bought up in isolation by her mother in a remote rural home, miles away from the nearest town. Emotionally unequipped to cope with her mother’s suicide, Claudia hides at home until the spirited Grace breezes into her life.
As the title of the film suggests, we see someone experience life outside of their secretive home bubble for the first time. Summer is dreamlike and simple with a sepia haze clouding the vision of these two 16-year-olds. They want this idyllic world that they have escaped into to last forever, but that’s not how real life works. I fell in love with this film, the Studio Ghibli like romanticism of the mundane, the gorgeous visuals telling this strong story.
A remarkable debut from writer and director Katie Found, this film is queer filmmaking at its best, letting us fall in love slowly as the characters do. Found’s story is harsh and gritty, with heart-breaking tones that leave us on edge. But these themes are presented to us in the most respectful and delicate ways, more for healing and understanding than just for dramatic entertainment purposes. I liked how the story flowed, it didn’t feel too artsy or unrealistic. Genuine and tasteful, this feature is a dream come to life in all its aspects.
So utterly beautiful to see these two souls intertwine with one another as they learn and grow, I was captivated by the talented performances and how we were able to see the world through their eyes. Claudia is a baby of the world, knowing only what her mother has taught her over the years they’ve kept themselves a secret and what Grace presents to her. Played by Markella Kavenaugh, this beautiful character is able to explore the outside world for the first time and for it to be in a childish not technological way just added to my love for the film. There are no phones or TV shows, instead Claudia comes to life and is able to grow through tea parties and bracelet making which is so simple yet so precious. Grace is the opposite, but very similar as she is searching for a purpose in life. Sweet and caring, she is played by Maiah Stewardson in the most touching and understanding way. I think what gives this film its charm is the characters and the way they learn from each other and grow together in friendship and love. They’re so well planned and understood, giving us a want for forehead kisses and innocence.
With cinematography by Matthew Chuang, we enter this bittersweet summer through harshness. I loved how the dark moments were dark and harshly lit, really emphasising the love and light in the happy moments. Claudia’s house went from hollow to full and welcoming, showing off the girl’s safe haven. Grace’s house on the other hand didn’t have the hazy light framing it in a beautiful way. It was sharp and not a place Grace or us as the audience wanted to be. Edited by Annabelle Johnson, the transitions between the reservoir water and the world were simple touches but made this teenage love story feel elegant and well thought out against the changes in the script.
My First Summer lets us bask in the glow of growing up and learning about love for the first time. It’s fragile and tender in how it teaches us about human connection, and it’s just a beautiful fresh breath of sugary air.