Credit: Matteo Vieille
by Ayeen Forootan Featured Film

The Beautiful Summer — Laura Luchetti [Locarno ’23 Review]

August 16, 2023

There must be some sort of an unwritten connection between the warmth of summer and the heat of one’s newfound emotions, the ripeness in the air and the maturation of sensations. It’s a special seasonal shift, especially for the youth who so often realize their sensual and corporeal impulses during this period of time, amid the passionate sun-drenched climate casually filled with careless ease and soothing breeze in a way they’ve never experienced before. Despite being set in 1938 Turin against the backdrop of Mussolini’s Fascist-era Italy which subsequently led the country into WWII, Laura Luchetti’s The Beautiful Summer works, just as its title vividly suggests, primarily on a contrast: the beauty, innocence, and relief of a transient time before the years of war, misfortune, and darkness. Adapted from Cesare Pavese’s 1949 same-name novel, the film follows its young protagonist Ginia (Yile Vianello), whose quotidian life initially appears to not consist of much more than her daytime job as a dressmaker in a downtown fashion atelier and her role as caring sister to her young and talented (but quite uninspired) brother, Severino (Nicolas Maupas); everything seems to have its inviolable order. Luchetti delicately captures Ginia’s figure in certain architectural and compositional spaces in order to punctuate her existential condition: the claustrophobia emphasized by narrow corridors, walls, windows, and balcony bars complements her movements — usually in either vertical posture, ascending and descending the stairs, or horizontal fashion, going back and forth via the city’s tram or strolling the streets — and culminates in a precise choreography which exemplifies both her daily Sisyphean struggles and her ceaseless desire to make something more of her life.

But among all these visual motifs, what stands out right away is the constant usage of mirrors and window panes that project Ginia’s reflection and construct a clear duality. It’s no surprise that the reserved, hardworking, and affectionate woman soon meets Amelia (portrayed by Deva Cassel, Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel’s daughter, in her debut role), a free-spirited and sociable modern girl who poses nude as a painter’s model. As sudden and unexpected as their encounter is, one might easily imagine how Amelia’s abrupt presence in Ginia’s prosaic life engenders a certain celestial and dreamy quality. Could she be a muse for her? Possibly. But again, the duality we’ve found in Ginia’s divided reflections now makes even greater sense: she soon follows Amelia into artistic and intellectual communities, distancing herself from her previous routines; she even alters her style by wearing a trendy hat, and under Amelia’s influence, decides to try modeling, even embarking on a fling with Guido (Alessandro Piavani), an independent young painter. The Beautiful Summer tells a story where two women mirror each other and wherein the constant acts of dressmaking (covering) and nude modeling (uncovering) present overt metaphors for their recovering and discovering themselves.

Indeed, Luchetti’s concise and perhaps unassuming aesthetic style (in collaboration with her DP Diego Romero Suárez-Llanos) has a keen observational tendency toward the juvenility of bodies and freshness of their characters’ emotions. Through her unique female gaze and artistic sensitivities, she captures an omnipresent beauty and breeziness — whether in natural landscapes and the city’s architectures, or through the representational process of painting — as well as an Epicurean philosophy (listening to and dancing to music, smoking, making love, or creating art), jointly functioning as political antithesis to the patriarchal fascism otherwise emblematic of the era. It’s the same stance that allows the viewers to discern a collision between the old and the new throughout The Beautiful Summer, whether in its more classical static shots or via its occasionally spontaneous handheld camerawork, or even as we see its characters, their movements in and out of the archaic cityscape of Turin. Luchetti’s atmospheric and haptic direction — the way she frequently singles out a body, especially the hands, is remarkable — offers somewhat of a contemporary fusion of Nina Companeez and Alberto Lattuada’s romantic eroticism, deliberately eschewing the greater spectacular and historical aspects of conventional set piece work or the heightened emotionalism regularly found in international Netflix productions for the fluid and compelling chemistry between Vianello and Cassel. This chemistry delineates a tender yet piquant portrait of youth and freedom, especially its rites of passage, inevitably and bittersweetly moving from the promises of summer to the heartbreaks of fall to the melancholy of winter, and — hopefully — to a blooming spring again.

Published as part of Locarno Film Festival 2023 — Dispatch 2.