Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson’s Summer White is a haunting story about a toxic mother-son relationship that gets interrupted by her new beau. Summer White is screening in Sundance’s World Dramatic Competition.
Throughout his haunting feature debut, Summer White, Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson keeps us in the headspace of 13-year-old Rodrigo (Adrián Rossi); he watches in horror as his relationship with his mother get disrupted by her new beau. Keeping the camera at Rodrigo’s height, most of the film plays out on closeups of his face, with his mother, her beau, Fernando (Fabián Corres), and others only seeping into the edges of the frame. It’s especially effective at heightening our awareness of how quickly Fernando starts to infiltrate his life, appearing more and more, and how little control Rodrigo has over his space.
From the first few scenes of Summer White, we see that Rodrigo worships his mother, Valeria (Sophie Alexander-Katz), climbing into bed with her for a cuddle when he can’t sleep, and dancing with her on Christmas eve. But we also sense that their relationship is perhaps too close, that she’s leaning on him in the absence of his father: they share the bathroom while she showers; she walks around naked; and she makes him her dance partner when an adult male is unavailable.
Patterson smartly charts the beau, Fernando’s, invasion of Rodrigo’s happy life: first staying over, then moving in and painting the walls, and always stealing Valeria’s attention. Fernando tries to bond with the boy, teaching him how to drive, but he has a short temper and tends to be cruel to a degree that’s unwarranted even by Rodrigo’s hostile exterior. As Valeria’s relationship with Fernando progresses, she becomes increasingly careless with her son, threatening to send him back to his father whenever he behaves badly, entirely oblivious to how she is hurting him. Although the film’s psychological insights are limited for a feature length story, largely repeating the same character beats, Summer White is a nightmarish tale of a boy losing his very flawed mother and spiralling because of it.