Two girls bond in a lush, isolated oasis in dreamy Aussie coming of age drama My First Summer
16 year old Claudia has been raised in complete isolation by her mentally ill mother in a house in the leafy countryside. She has never left their land for any reason and has thus never interacted with anyone else. No school, no doctors, no extended family; nothing. When Claudia’s mother takes her own life she finds herself completely lost and alone until free spirited local teen Grace appears in her backyard and appoints herself her new best friend and mentor.
Grace has her own reasons to escape home life and the outside world. The two girls spend a hazy summer alone together, each finding much needed comfort and companionship in the other, and dreading their inevitable discovery by the authorities who they fear will come and take Claudia into care. My First Summer is the debut feature film from writer and director Katie Found and stars Markella Kavenagh as Claudia and Maiah Stewardson as Grace.
Reminiscent of both The Virgin Suicides and Captain Fantastic, the notion of children having grown up in an idealised, isolated environment suddenly being confronted by the real world is an enticing one. But whilst My First Summer has that same reality-adjacent vibe where time and place seem irrelevant, it revels and breathes in that moment before discovery and intrusion. Claudia and Grace get to spend a sun kissed summer creating, playing and exploring. Making art, picking fruit, sampling sugar laden food combinations and pretending at being adults, it’s that quintessential last golden summer of childhood.
Their slowly growing romance feels organic, all giggles and fumbled touches. It’s incredibly sweet to see a relationship played out by young people completely unaffected by the preconceived judgements or worries of the outside world, as for these girls, for this summer, there is no outside world. It’s a joyous thing that is gloriously devoid of shame or uncertainty, a rare take on female sexual awakening.
Maiah Stewardson plays Grace as the very spirit of teenage nerve. Confident and assured she appears like a pastel coloured mirage in a mishmash of multicoloured clothing and homemade jewellery whilst being able to switch on a storm like fury when her new friend is threatened. Markella Kavenagh turns in an astonishing performance as Claudia, she captures perfectly the inherited mistrust of the world, the utter joy of new experiences and the abject fear of being discovered. A serious talent, the world can expect to see more of her soon as she has recently been cast as a lead in Amazon’s new Lord of the Rings series which is in production now.
Found’s script is a hopeful, delicate thing that handles all of its subject matter with a light touch. The darkness of Claudia’s mother’s suicide is slowly revealed in indistinct flashes of memory and dream, actress Edwina Wren’s yellow dress slowly sinking under the dark water of the local reservoir in a haunting scene that contrasts the golden hue of the rest of the film beautifully. The soft focus of it’s cinematography, lush natural scenery and ambient soundtrack punctuated with bird calls make My First Summer a sublime package.
An ethereal, transportative bit of escapism that tells a very sweet story, My First Summer feels like magical filmmaking. Managing to be warm and comforting in spite of all it’s dark subject matter, this is a very promising debut from new Australian talent and one of my favourite features of this years festival.
My First Summer is playing as part of BFI Flare, the London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival, between 17th – 28th March. You can buy tickets to stream it right here