That Summer directed by Swedish film-maker Göran Olsson is a memoir, a remembrance of the past. In a sense, it is a sequel to the documentary Grey Gardens directed by Albert and David Maysles.

Discovering hours of long-lost footage, especially related to a documentary such as the critically acclaimed Grey Gardens from 1975, always calls film-makers for a new dance. The only question is whether a new dance is necessary and can be admired enough than the previous one. Swedish documentary film-maker Göran Olsson and his producers were definitely up for a dance and thought the footage found should be seen by others, too.

That Summer has been made with great intentions, but it potentially reaches out only to the fans of Grey Gardens and those who are fascinated by the 70s, the era when the underground became mainstream – thanks to such iconic figures as Andy Warhol. On the one hand, the film functions as Peter Beard and his friend Lee Radziwill’s memoir, on the other, it is an extension of the film Grey Gardens. Radzivill, the younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Beard are remembering that particular season when they started to work on a film about Radzivill’s aunt and cousin, Edith Bouvier Beale (Big Edie) and Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (Little Edie), an eccentric mother-daughter duo known from the documentary Grey Gardens.

The footage is indeed remarkable as well as the characters are one of a kind, and the family connection revealed makes the film undeniably more interesting, which might have been the case back in the 70s as well. The critics were also praising Grey Gardens because, for them, it was one of the great examples of direct cinema. This type of documentaries aims at directly capturing reality and truthfully representing it. This also applies to Olsson’s That Summer, as the story partly unfolds itself through the monologue of Radziwill and Beard as well as the conversations between Radziwill and her aunt and cousin. However, the mother and daughter’s toxic relationship takes up most of the time of the film, and the memories told by Radziwill and Beard only contextualise the situation and serve as a map for the viewers to fully understand what is going on. The dialogues chiefly unveil the Bouviers’ problems with each other as well as help Radzivill to gather information about her family, more specifically about her dad. In a way, she also becomes a main character in the film, though she usually takes the role of the facilitator – guiding the workers fixing the house, talking to authorities, etc.

The title That Summer actually refers to the summer when Radziwill and Beard started making the film about Big Edie and Little Edie, still, their roles are inferior to theirs. One might say it is a film about a film that had a huge influence and created fandom. So, in the end, nostalgia wins and all that matters is that the footage has been found. The film certainly will show up at film festivals, especially at archival ones, since it is mainly comprised of archival footage. Museums, the home of artworks for eternity, would be also an ideal place for That Summer, as both those and the film remembers.

This review is in the March issue of Cinema Scandinavia. 

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  • Directed by Göran Olsson
  • Produced by Joslyn Barnes, Nejma Beard, Tobias Janson & Signe Byrge Sørensen  for Story AB
Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.