I can’t believe it’s already time for the last Springtime in Italy post! I’m glad I committed to this series, since otherwise I’m not sure I’d have written here much at all in March. It’s been such a crazy, busy month.
Director David Lean’s Summertime is a gem, one with much more in common with his quiet, intimate 1945 film, Brief Encounter, than his sweeping sagas like Doctor Zhivago and Laurence of Arabia. It’s a truly touching, romantic movie, and one that doesn’t seem to be as popular or well-known as it should be. I absolutely love it.
Summertime is the story of a middle-aged spinster secretary from Akron Ohio, played by Katharine Hepburn. She has scrimped and saved for years in order to visit Italy, and from the first moment we see her she is brimming with enthusiasm about her adventure. She’s also clearly eager to connect with those around her, from her fellow tourists to the Italians she meets.
Hepburn is a marvel in Summertime. The hope and wonder her character feels at finally being in this place she’s dreamed about for so long is very affecting, as is her loneliness and longing for beauty and romance.
She finds that romance in a handsome Venetian played by Rossano Brazzi. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the one in which Hepburn, alone at a sidewalk cafe, realizes that Brazzi is gazing at her.
Her discomfiture at being noticed and appreciated by a good looking man is beautifully played. Here is a woman who isn’t used to being paid attention to in that open, sensual, Italian way. As much as she is yearning for romance and maybe even sex, she doesn’t know how to handle flirtation. The men in Akron don’t act this way – if they notice her at all, that is.
Seeing Hepburn’s character come out of her shell – watching her put down the camera and start living life instead of simply observing from the sidelines – is a bittersweet joy. Bittersweet because opening yourself up to love means opening yourself up to pain, and her admirer is a married man. This isn’t the perfect, unencumbered romance she’s been dreaming of all these years. These complications and compromises aren’t what she’s imagined for herself.
I think Summertime is a movie that’s easier to appreciate when you’re a little older and can see that life isn’t quite what you dreamed it would be when you were young. Things aren’t always straightforwardly black-and-white. Is a little bit of imperfect romance in a love-starved life better than none at all? Are a few days of passion and excitement worth the pain you might feel later? There aren’t any easy answers – in the movie, or in life.
Or maybe I’m just a sucker for stories of forbidden romance.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I really like Rossano Brazzi. He is especially good in this, making what could have been a smarmy character – a married man seducing a naive tourist — into something more complex and difficult to judge. He’s very attractive and has great chemistry with Katharine Hepburn.
As for Hepburn, “sexy” is not an adjective I would use for her generally, but there are moments in Summertime when she shows that side of herself, and you understand why Brazzi’s character can’t take his eyes off her.
Aside from the touching, poignant story and Hepburn’s great performance, the movie is well worth watching for the gorgeous views of Venice in 1955.
The city looks glorious in Technicolor, but unfortunately for Katharine Hepburn, the beautiful looking canals of Venice were actually filthy and dangerously polluted. One of the movie’s scenes called for her to fall into the water, which she gamely did. She was left with lifelong eye problems because of a resulting infection.
I have an extremely long list of desert island movies, admittedly, but Summertime is definitely on it, and pretty close to the top, too. I watch it every year or so, and it always breaks my heart in the most enjoyable way. If you only watch one of my Springtime in Italy recommendations, I hope it’s this one. It’s such a special film.