Summer Loving, Happened so Fast…



Mercenary mayhem gives way to ménage à trois in Lina Wertmüller‘s 1986 confrontational delight, Summer Night. In the oft-overlooked film, a shrewd, wealthy über-capitalist blonde (played by the late Mariangela Melato) kidnaps a hunky revolutionary (Michele Placido) who’s been a major thorn in her side. He is bound and blindfolded in her palatial seaside estate.

So why is this movie called “Summer Night“? A completely justified question, to a point. Particularly since, at least for the first hour-plus, most everything takes place in sun-drenched daylight exteriors. Sure, she gets friendly down in the sand. But no one gets friendly holding anyone’s hand.

Turns out that the original title, translated from its native Italian into English, is Summer Night with Greek Profile, Almond Eyes, and Scent of Basil. Not exactly ideal marquee fodder, and again, still not an ideal signaling of what the film actually is. What sounds like a romantic, lusty sun & sex romp is actually so much more.

Lina Wertmüller’s world is zero shades of grey, but 50,000 shades of everything else.

Adorned throughout with a sensuous score by Pino D’Angiò and Lello Greco, Summer Night presents as light and breezy. Melato’s character is the 1980’s Italian version of a fast talking career woman from a 1930’s screwball comedy, the kind who’s on need of a oppositional man to come in, win her over (while she drives him nuts), and “reprogram her”. Quite oddly (or not?), this is exactly how Summer Night wants to go. Except, with corporate greed, sexual humiliation, and some blatant fascism. Think Fifty Shades of Grey, a lot smarter and classier, directed by Oliver Stone. Just don’t dismiss it as an inferior Swept Away do-over, as so many have. Wertmüller leaves that to Guy Ritchie.

Melato’s character, Fulvia Bolk, is a wealthy, self-made tycoon, freely espousing the business model that’s served her so well, get rich by saving the Earth. As long as her wealthy friends and cohorts pollute the planet, there’s an active market for her to “clean it up”. Placido’s character, Beppe, and his gang like to throw wrenches into that system.

Right away, Bolk’s gang of hired professional thugs achieve their mission, nabbing Beppe. So, in first ten minutes, she has her enemy taken prisoner… what then?

How about some strange yet lavish S&M prisoner bondage? Sure, why the heck not. Beppe spends most of the movie chained to a wall, wearing only a blue silk robe while constricted in an ornate blindfold apparatus, complete with a key lock on side. Wertmüller is all too game to play along, objectifying him with her camera, soaking up his weirdly sexy poses and positions, even as he continuously growls obscenity after obscenity at his captors.

Bolk obsessively monitors him via closed circuit television, the feed playing as an on-the-fly film unto itself, ridiculously complete with apparently manned multiple cameras, cutting and zooming in on him. Fascination is mounting on both sides of the lens. When Beppe eventually (and somewhat effortlessly) convinces Bolk of some conjugal time, she sends in two high class prostitutes… plus herself. The idea is, with Beppe blindfolded, he won’t ever know. By this point, perhaps needless to say, it is finally night time.

A bizarre and at times uncomfortable collision of gender role politics, sexual proclivities, and socio-economic divide, Summer Night strangely pops. Yet, on every one of these fronts, the issue at hand becomes muddled. And not just muddled, but joyously, amusedly muddled, purely on Wertmüller’s behalf.

The fact that Summer Night is directed by a woman – and not just any woman, but one with a prominent cinema track record – must shield it from much external prodding and criticism it would receive in today’s age of hunting down any and all “hashtag: problematic” content. This is by no means a film that would survive political, gender or social scrutiny in today’s reactionary world. Even so, it’s clear that the filmmaker is in no way looking to glorify any character’s staunch views so much as to see them compromise them in the name of human passion. It’s the handling of the confrontational nature of everything that is controversial in the story that makes the film succeed.

Summer Night may not be one of Lina Wertmüller’s Great Films, but it isn’t right to ignore. Vibrant and fresh from its run in a recent Wertmüller retrospective, the Kino Lorber blu-ray looks terrific, and comes with a published essay. There are no other extras aside from a few trailers.

Lina Wertmüller’s world is zero shades of grey, but 50,000 shades of everything else. Even at night, that much is quite obvious.

The images in this review are not representative of the actual DVD’s image quality, and are included only to represent the film itself.