Maybe I’m jealous of Katherine Hepburn for spending her summer in Venice when I have to be in Toronto. Maybe I’m not the target demographic of this film. Maybe I’m not in the mood for summer yet even though it’s sunny and bright and beautiful outside. Maybe it’s because it’s sunny and bright and beautiful that I don’t like to be sitting inside watching a tepid romantic drama with little substance beneath a splendid façade. Or, most likely, I had sky-high expectations of a David Lean film because of the man’s otherwise stellar filmography.You can see where I was going with that. Now, that’s not to say the film is entirely without its pleasures. For one thing, its absolutely picturesque photography makes it a perfect candidate for a series like this. The entire film reminded me of the opening scene of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, where postcard-perfect pictures of Paris are shown back to back. Substitute Paris with Venice and extend the sequence to a feature-length film and you have the cinematography of Summertime. There are moments of great chemistry between Katherine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi that play beautifully into the film as well. But overall, this film can’t touch the best work of either Hepburn or Lean’s career with a ten foot pole.
So I woke up in the morning, went to work and came back home to edit my post and lo and behold, I felt like discarding the whole thing. Having slept on the film and spent some time with it in the back of my head – because let’s be honest, we all think about films even when we're at work – I like it a lot more than I did this time last night. Not that I think its skin-deep treatment of middle-aged romance is any more substantial than it was last night or that its depiction of Venice as the backdrop for this story amounts to anything more than an excuse for culturally stereotyping, Euro-themed banter and a sightseeing tour. (For a much superior example of both middle-aged romance and geography as thematic centerpiece, refer to Abbas Kiarostami’s Italy-set Certified Copy.) I still maintain that the film suffers deeply from those issues but, in retrospect, I enjoyed it quite a bit too. Maybe it’s a film I’ll remember more fondly than I thought I would as I was watching it. Maybe under different conditions, I’ll give it another try and examine it in more detail.
Anyway, my about face on the film didn't affect my choice for its best shot, which comes really early in the film and has very little significance in the narrative. But, as some of the older readers may remember, I’m an architecture enthusiast and if the film is so intent on showing off Venice’s unique, exemplary architectural sphere, the only logical choice for me is to take advantage of that.
After we see shadows overtaking Hepburn's figure completely, the scene cuts to her perspective and we see for the first time what she’s looking at: an incredibly long strip of buildings on either side of this narrow walkway that seem to be closing in on her, and us. The shot lasts 13 seconds as the camera moves forward and the alley only seems to get narrower and narrower between these intricately designed buildings and their delicate decorations. The reverse shot then shows Hepburn again, this time her wonderment justified for the audience. Needless to say, the guide remains unenthusiastic. Whereas the rest of Summertime highlights Venice’s architecture with grandiose palettes, beautiful long shots and open spaces, the underplayed beauty of this sequence captures a more grounded element of Venetian architecture but an integral one. It's a rich thematic introduction to Hepburn's ensuing loneliness in the city as well. She's intimated and overtaken, as if she would remain in captivity if she doesn't find what she's really there to find.