“The Beautiful Summer” (“La bella estate”)
Screened at the 59th Annual Chicago International Film Festival (2/5); Letterboxd (2/5), Imdb.com (4/10), TMDB.com (2/5)
It’s frustrating to watch a film that’s ostensibly headed along a particular trajectory but that continually stumbles on the path it takes to get there. That’s precisely what happens in this period piece coming out/coming of age story set in 1938 Italy. Writer-director Laura Luchetti’s adaptation of Cesare Pavese’s 1949 novel about an impressionable 17-year-old dressmaker (Yile Yara Vianello) who becomes romantically infatuated with an artist’s model (Deva Cassel) takes its own sweet time (and plenty of overlong detours) in making its way toward a seemingly foregone conclusion. But, even when this offering apparently approaches that destination, it takes yet another unexpected left-field turn and subsequently leads to what the filmmaker herself admits is a deliberately ambiguous conclusion. Consequently, this is the kind of movie that’s likely to leave many viewers scratching their head and asking, “What’s the point of all this?” The picture is allegedly intended to address a subject that was considered taboo at the time of the story’s setting and of the book’s writing, but that objective isn’t fulfilled nearly as clearly as it might have been. As a result, whatever lofty intentions might have been behind the initiation of this production, they’re decidedly obscured in the final cut. There are also some passing references to the fascist sociopolitical conditions of the time (elements not included in the source material), but they’re never developed much, making their inclusion look like throwaway afterthoughts. To its credit, “The Beautiful Summer” has some fine cinematography, well-chosen location settings showcasing the beauty of Turin and a stirring soundtrack, but, if these attributes are the best that one can say about the film, that’s not saying much about the picture overall. Luchetti’s third feature outing truly needs ample retooling to make it work, because, as it stands, it doesn’t.