Though it's been likened to the early Roman Polanski classic Knife In The Water, presumably because they both involve sailboats, Summer '04 isn't really a thriller per se, but it has the unnerving tension of one. If comparisons must be made, it's actually more like a European version of The Ice Storm: Both are morality tales about the limits of permissiveness, and both build to an accident of stunning consequence. But Summer '04 is subtler and more insinuating, and less burdened by a puritanical urge to judge. German director Stefan Krohmer does seem to view some of the film's relationships as inappropriate or hypocritical, but he isn't given to generalizing too far beyond the five characters in immediate focus. His film is about people first, and social statements a distant second.
Projecting an earthy sexiness that's just right for a woman torn between temptation and maternal responsibility, Martina Gedeck stars as a bourgeois wife and mother vacationing with her family in their summer home. She's allowed her mopey son (Lucas Kotaranin) to bring along his girlfriend, a precocious, sexually brazen almost-13-year-old played by Svea Lohde. When Lohde begins spending an inordinate amount of time sailing around with Robert Seeliger, a handsome, mysterious bachelor roughly three times her age, Gedeck sees it as a cause for concern, even though her son and cold-fish husband (Peter Davor) think it's no big deal. Things get more complicated, however, when Gedeck is drawn to Seeliger's charms, and enters into a love triangle with disturbing implications.
It's odd to say that Summer '04 crackles with tension, because it doesn't aim for suspense in any traditional sense, and includes only one scene in which harm might be intentionally visited upon a character. But the chemistry between the three leads is complex and quietly edgy, with Gedeck and Lohde alternating roles as surrogate mother-daughter and romantic rivals, and the caddish Seeliger encouraging the confusion. Only in the very last scene does Krohmer stub his toe with an ending that's a bit too neatly ironic, and conveniently wriggles the film out of a moral quandary. Up to that point, Summer '04 was content to simmer in disturbing ambiguity.
Key features: A disjointed making-of featurette that includes some good raw footage of the shoot, and eight minutes of deleted scenes.