The term "coming-of-age" in reference to films about kids in their mid to late teens has become a cliché, but one cannot deny these films' instant relatability, because all of us at one point have experienced the painful transition from adolescence to adulthood, with the realization that finally getting to be grown up isn't the experience we dreamed it would be.
Summer Storm, a German film subtitled in English, follows the angst of Tobi, who realizes that his feelings toward his closest friend, Achim, have gone past friendship and into a mixture of sexual desire and love. Achim is marginally aware of Tobi's feelings, although he does not quite understand what is going on. Achim is experiencing his own first love – with a girl – and the resulting strain on his and Tobi's friendship takes a toll as they head off to a summer camp to focus on rigorous athletic training for an upcoming rowing event.
It is at the camp that the team encounters another team made up of gay men, all of them comfortable with their sexuality and very open about it. In creating friendships with some of the men, Tobi finds a means of acceptance, both external and internal, of his perplexing dilemma. This newfound comfort does nothing, however, to alleviate the tensions between him and Achim, the confusion of a girl who longs to initiate a physical relationship with Tobi, as well as the homophobic comments of a wealthy teammate.
The acting in Summer Storm is so good that viewers might forget that they are watching a work of fiction. Each character is so perfectly cast, so well-rounded, that they could easily be real people. The acting never feels forced, as it is so natural and fresh and honest.
If you are subtitle-shy, don't let that deter you from a really terrific film. Although any film that has homosexuality at its core is likely only to be viewed within that context, all of us, no matter what our sexual orientation, can relate to the sheer pain and indignity of unrequited love as well as the confusion and excitement that often accompany young adulthood. The plot moves along smoothly until the literal storm that occurs near the apex of the film. That part feels somewhat forced, as though a plot device needed to be inserted to bring the film to its conclusion. It does the trick, however, and viewers are likely to find the ending satisfying.
I know many people who shied away from Brokeback Mountain because of the stigma of featuring two men as protagonists in a love story, and as those of you who have seen it know, they missed a beautiful movie. The same could be said for Summer Storm; don't allow preconceived notions to get in the way of a great movie-watching experience.
Filmed on location in Germany, the cinematography, especially since the majority of the film takes place outside, is downright gorgeous. Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the picture is crisp and clear, and the colors are beautiful. The stunning visuals do much to contribute to the overall emotional impact of the film.
Sound is a very important quality in this film, as the beginning scenes feature a dance, and the outdoor scenes feature the usual sounds of nature as well as the actual storm that occurs at the end of the film. The sound quality is excellent; even though the actors are speaking German and you may not understand what they are saying, the sound is really terrific.
It is quite disappointing that there is no making-of featurette included with the film. A commentary track would likely be useless to any viewers who do not speak German, however a subtitled featurette would have been a welcome addition, because Summer Storm is the kind of film that leaves the viewer wanting more. A recent film that comes to mind of a similar nature is one I caught on Logo recently called Latter Days, which follows a Mormon missionary in Los Angeles who is tempted by his feelings for a gay neighbor. The backstory to how the script came to be was quite interesting, and I am sure the same could be said for Summer Storm. Alas, on this DVD, viewers are left without any answers.
Put any preconceived notions you may have aside, and watch and enjoy this film as it addresses the timeless theme of first love, hope, heartbreak, and renewal.