Violent Summer

Violent Summer (Italian: Estate violenta) is a 1959 French/Italian award-winning black-and-white drama film directed by Valerio Zurlini[1], written by Valerio Zurlini & Suso Cecchi D’Amico (story and screenplay), with Giorgio Prosperi (screenplay). It stars Eleonora Rossi Drago and Jean Louis Trintignant.

Summer, 1943: wealthy youth in the Riccione district of Rimini play while the war gets closer. Carlo Caremoli, a young man who follows the crowd, has found ways to avoid military service. Then, on the beach, he meets Roberta, a war widow with a child. Roberta’s mother warns Roberta to avoid Carlo, but to her, he seems attentive and to her daughter he is kind. Romance develops. Within a few weeks, Roberta is risking everything. Can there be a resolution between passion, on the one hand, and war, duty, and social expectation on the other?

Written by[2]

Essential background: It is the summer of 1943. The Western allies have occupied the southern part of Italy. Bologna, near where the story takes place, is in the north. The King of Italy is working with several generals to remove Mussolini and then sign an armistice with the allies. The removal occurs on July 23, 1943. (The armistice came later on September 3.) This plunges Italy into battles between fascists trying to retain power and anti-fascists. Also, the Germans enter Italy and quickly take over the territory not held by the Allies.

The film uses these events, showing them in microcosm as they affect the lives of the characters. For example, there is a German bombing of a railroad train at the end (very realistically depicted), and this influences Trintignant’s determination to join a fighting force. There is the takeover of his father’s mansion when the fascists fall and his displacement. Earlier there is hostility of Drago’s mother to her romance because she is anti-fascist and doesn’t like Trintignant’s family. In the first part of the movie and the summer, the war is distant, only heard on radio and scarcely affecting the youth who frolic on the beach, go boating and swimming and have plenty to eat.

msroz from United States, 30 July 2013[2].

I went in blind and found it a distracting film because the settings, clothing and hairstyles are from the late 1950s[2], and such is the film’s obsession with bright white clothing it almost feels as if it’s shot in ultra-violet. The peak scene would be when the fascist father is about to run: he’s meant to be a sad/clownish figure with his Mussolini look-a-like bald-head but he actually looks so out-of-THAT-time that the connection fails.

The film does have two definitive set-pieces:

… a brilliantly choreographed sequence to the song “Temptation,” reminding me of Fassbinder’s “The Bitter Tears of Petra Van Kant,” this is one of the better scenes one is ever likely to see in all of cinema where the lovers dance and fall in love around a nude male statue oblivious to the war raging outside…

Robert Kennedy from USA, 24 March 2001[2].

[The] bombing of the railway station, Zurlini works wonders when he describes people’s panic.

dbdumonteil, 13 November 2005[2].

Much as I admire Trintignant’s work, it is often in roles where he is detached, somewhat ambiguous, uncommitted, hard to figure. To quote one source: “When he started appearing in films, Trintignant was almost invariably cast as the gauche romantic hero, seductive but not imposing. Later, he gravitated towards darker, more complex roles, becoming more of the anti-hero, misanthropic, solitary, calculating and cynical.” I think that these later characteristics make him passive and standoffish in a romantic role and help defuse his portrayal of passion… At times I felt that the Trintignant character was calculating and more into a seduction than love.

msroz from United States, 30 July 2013[2].

In reality, Trintignant was only five years younger than Drago, but it’s the fact that he seems so much older than his friends that confuses because it seems to fit with his explanation of how bored he is with them. The age-gap between Carlo and Rosanna seems far greater and more questionable, which dilutes the contrast with the widow’s age and undermines the conflicts that follow.

[1] Wikipedia. Estate Violenta. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
[2] IMDb. Violent Summer (1959). Retrieved 11 October 2017.

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