When a film has a title like My Summer of Love, it wouldn't be unreasonably to expect a languorous, stretched-out mood, slightly lazy and slightly warm and prone to lingering on moments. None of this is the case. The actual My Summer of Love that exists - a 2004 film that gave Emily Blunt her theatrical film debut and boosted director PaweΕ‚ Pawlikowski out of obscurity, on the way to winning the BAFTA for Best British Film, and despite these things has remained an obscure curio ever since - is first and above all 86 minutes long, and this means that there's simply no room for lazy summer vibes. This is entirely to the film's benefit; first because 86 minutes is a really fantastic running time for a movie, and I am prepared to cut a lot of slack to anything that can hit that target. But more to the point, because of how that running time plays with the subjective experience of the main character, Mona (Natalie Press), a young woman of somewhat uncertain age (Press was 23), though if she's out of adolescence, it's not by very much at all, and it definitely feels like "late high school, but she's been called upon to function as an adult" fits the data best. More to the point, the film makes her feel young; that fleet-footed running time, and the way Pawlikowski uses it to structure his movie, gives the film the bounding, rabbit-like energy of youth, and makes Mona feel very much like she's at the age where absolutely everything feels like it ought to be wide open and full of possibility, even though the practical conditions of her life have rather brutally constrained her actual possibilities.

It's not so very different from the approach Pawlikowski would take 14 years later in Cold War: the film seems to be built almost entirely out of ellipses. That being said, the two films are doing completely different things with those ellipses. For My Summer of Love, they're present to signify the overpower hurricane of emotions that Mona feels over the titular season. My understanding is that the 2001 novel by Helen Trask is a bit bigger and more idea-driven, and that it's more interested in the class context of the story; Pawlikowski, in writing the adaptation with Michael Wynne, wanted to strip it down to the simple, direct matter of an emotionally intense relationship, and this is exactly what the film does. It's not exactly the greatest hits of a summer love, though that's a way of thinking about; it's more that it present a collection of individual moments that build upon each other at top speed, certainly faster than makes any logical sense, but which feels just right for the kind of dazzlement felt by a young person in their first romance. Time stops flowing right; everything feels like leaping from peak of emotion to another, and when it's all over at the end it feels shockingly fast, like it just started a moment ago. I suppose it's fair to complain that this leaves the film a bit hollow, gesturing at emotions rather than properly feeling them, but also this is what the actors are there for, and the actors in this particular film are outrageously good.

The film keeps itself to a pared-down set of relationships. Mona has an older brother, Phil (Paddy Considine), who's her only living relative. He's recently been released from prison a changed man: he has now become a born-again Christian, and converted the family pub into a meeting place. This has had the effect of leaving Mona with absolutely nowhere in the world to be, which makes it fortuitous timing when she randomly crosses paths with Tamsin (Blunt), a young woman of a much wealthier, more stable family - she's introduced riding in on a horse, a fairly blunt visual statement of the kind of class dynamic we're looking at here. Tamsin has the kind of blithe antisocial tendencies that only a child of privilege can have: she's been suspended from boarding school for some sort of bad behavior, and she represents a level of impiety that's exactly what Mona needs in her life right now, so the girls become inseparable almost on the spot; this is part of where the film's fast, sweeping approach to assembling its narrative pays off best, as we move from "Mona sees Tamsin for the first time" to "Mona regards Tamsin as a soulmate" briskly and with almost no material stitching it together. It's a perfect stylistic embodiment of the head-over-heels passion and enthusiasm Mona feels, and it's emotionally engaging in a way that a slow boil couldn't be.

The other benefit to the story of having so many ellipses is that, by pulling us through the plot so quickly, My Summer of Love doesn't give us much room to dwell on the two obvious stormclouds looming: first, there's Phil, who obviously doesn't care for Tamsin's sardonic, flippant, disrespectful way of sauntering through life, and who very likely would be apoplectic at discovering that his sister was sexually involved with another woman (the film gives us enough to see that he suspects something, and it disgusts him). The second, and more important thing is Tamsin herself: as expressed through Blunt's superb acting, the kind that instantly made a fan of me in 2005, and remains one of the most interesting performances of her screen career, Tamsin obviously enjoys fucking with people emotionally, and while the film gives us ample reason to assume she is genuinely fond of Mona and feels real attraction to her, there's also something sly and cunning in her expressions and her line deliveries, a distinct sense that what she really, really likes is how obviously Mona is devoted to her. We're encouraged to see Tamsin only through Mona's eyes, so this is hiding on the fringes rather than front and center, but Blunt doesn't permit it to hide away entirely. So that's two different things that are likely to ruin Mona's summer altogether, but that's not the film's purpose: it's much more interested in her in-the-moment enthusiasm and the feeling that she's growing into her own person. It's a fine balance, and productive.

Besides the striking emotional subjectivity of the story, My Summer of Love also excels at creating a very strong sense of place. Pawlikowski and cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski (their first of four collaborations, ending with the superb Ida in 2013) are very interested in the particular character of lighting and the way it interacts with landscapes and faces alike; the way that the sunny fields are so visually distinct from the murky interiors of rooms is one of the most intoxicating, energising parts of the movie. They also have a keen sense of how to place people in compositions to make them feel like part of the environment, rather than standing out against it. This feels, in that respect, more like a European film than a British film. This has a downside as well: like so many European films of the 2000s, My Summer with Love is addicted to handheld camerawork, and while this does work in concert with its character sketches - the cinematography feels as kinetic and lively as Mona wishes she could be - it's a huge distraction, especially early on, and it leaves too many of the scenes between Mona and Phil feeling erratic and messy, rather than standoffish and tense, which is what both actors are going for.

Still, as much of a drag as that has on the rest of the movie, the precision of its mise en scène, the unrestrained Yorkshire accents, and its occasional moments of visual grace all work together to make this a terrific story not just of a young woman's overwhelming first love affair, but of the constrained world that heightens her need for love. It's a spare, simple movie, but its simplicity is a great strength, and while I don't know that I could call it one of the great love stories of an era, it's good enough at it that I do wish it were better-known than being a footnote to Blunt's later career.