Adolescence is universal. No matter the time period, gender, sexuality, or setting, coming of age is tangible to any audience member. It is something everyone experiences, and it offers a deep well of inspiration for filmmakers time and time again. For Laura Luchetti, that meant that adapting Cesare Pavese’s 1949 novella of the same name would not be difficult to make relevant in today’s modern times. Premiering in the U.S. at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival, “The Beautiful Summer” is a romantic portrait of a woman’s own coming of age in Turin, Italy.
Under the growing fascist regime in Italy, Ginia (Yile Yara Vianello) and her brother Severino (Nicolas Maupas) are struggling to find their own way in the city – a change of pace from their countryside upbringing. A quiet girl, Ginia spends her days sewing dresses and creating her own designs for a dressmaker, where she shows promising talent. Her life gets thrown into chaos when she meets Amelia (Deva Casel), an unbridled and outgoing girl who models for painters as a living. Immersing herself into this circle of artists, Ginia begins her journey of self-discovery by exploring her own sexuality.
Luchetti’s focus is on Ginia’s body and how, as a woman entering adulthood, she perceives that body, as well as how others will perceive it. By meeting Amelia, a woman who is confident in her own sexuality and pursues men freely, Genia’s perception of herself is thrown into disarray. This becomes especially complicated once her attraction for Amelia reveals itself. Surrounded by a group of people – primarily men – who are open in their desires, Ginia begins to look at herself differently. Taking in her own body, she realizes she is capable of those desires too.
Apart from Amelia, this new group consists of male painters. These painters, who Amelia models for, hold the power of their gaze within their brush strokes and pencil strikes. It is in this gaze, the male gaze, that Ginia measures herself. She wishes to be seen by these men the way they see Amelia; a mature and sexual being. She constantly asks to pose nude for the men, the same way that Amelia does, so that she can potentially be seen that way. However, when she begins to win the attention of these men, she ultimately realizes that this isn’t entirely what she wanted. Instead, her feelings for Amelia only become more apparent to her.
Luchetti’s direction of this story is dripping with romanticism. Summer in Italy is peaceful, whimsical, and warm. Yellow and green overtones fill the frame, and romantic music spins off of record players in the background as people dance together. Tied together with the slower pacing of the film, Luchetti establishes a feeling of youth and freedom that is easy to get lost in. Despite the growing facism in the country, these fears are blurred by the passions of youth. As Ginia gets lost in her wants, the real world fears and responsibilities fade away. Once the repercussions of her actions begin, the summer fades away into autumn, then to winter.
Ginia’s journey of self discovery, though familiar, is sympathetic and engrossing. Luchetti successfully creates a world in which the audience gets wrapped up in the whims of its young protagonist. Vianello’s Ginia is sensitive and quiet for a lot of the run time, but her character is fully realized through the eyes of her performer, and the music that envelops the film. An astonishing dance scene between Ginia and Amelia, which utilizes music perfectly, demonstrates Luchetti’s ability to tell such a passionate story.
“The Beautiful Summer” is a warm and sensual portrayal of a young woman’s maturation. It is powerful in its honest depiction of exploration, with one’s own body and sexuality. While exercising strong direction and empathetic performances, Laura Luchetti’s film enters the canon of coming of age films with a commanding presence.