Summer Films

It’s summertime. Not really though, the summer solstice is twenty-four days away. That longest day spent on the deck or in the pool, baking in the glorious oven that is summer heat, still tantalizingly awaits.

BUT the weather is dependably warm now and my sons are out of school, which for me means summer. I put my cacti and succulents out on the deck and I’ve mowed the lawn twice. I cross the yard barefoot to the tiny garden in the back to dump the compost. The community pool - complete with teenage lifeguards, a snackbar, and freckled kiddies smeared with sunscreen - is open. The windows are also open and I’m living in thin cotton dresses. And the most telltale sign, my feet are permanently dirty…on their way to calloused. 

Summer means I’m the kind of happy that only happens when it’s warm for months on end.

In the spirit of all this - because it’s heaven and I feel alive again after the frigid months - I’ve collected a list of movies that bleed summer. These titles act as stepping stones through the cold months, reminding me that time passes quickly and the warm months will always come again. But I especially love watching them during the summer, to soak in the energy of the day after I’ve put my hot-tired kids to bed and the sun’s set. 

So here they are, the films that distill sumptuous heat and project it directly into your living room. Let’s sun ourselves in them.

We’ll start with the oldest movie on the list: Jacque Deray’s 1969 film, La Piscine, which takes place on the Cote d’Azur. This sun-drenched, French crime-love rectangle stars Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, Maurice Ronet, and a  22-year-old Jane Birkin. All of the action revolves around the swimming pool. They’re floating, they’re swimming, they’re lounging, they’re murdering or getting murdered… Passion and UV rays are high. It’s totally delicious.

Which takes us right into the next three titles on the list, all by Luca Gaudagnino, king of that summer feeling. Guadagnino’s remake of La Piscine, titled A Bigger Splash (2015), though seemingly redundant, deserves a spot on the list. This revamp stars Tilda Swinton as an opulent rock star, Matthias Schoenaerts as her lover, Ralph Fiennes as Swinton’s wacky ex-lover, and Dakota Johnson as Fiennes’ long-lost daughter. Gaudagnino preserves the original story and the sweltering energy. (I actually prefer the acting in this version.) It’s the most fun of the Italian director’s movies and is pure gold.

Call Me By Your Name (2017), another Guadagnino, is set in Northern Italy in the early 1980’s. It is THE dreamiest version of summer love. Period. Think dilapidated villas, bike rides down dirt paths, crumbling villages, and swimming in the ocean at sunset after excavating archaeological finds from the ocean floor. The soundtrack to this slow burn is almost as good as the acting and directing. No cinematic experience leaves me satiated like this generous feast for the senses.

I Am Love (2009), our final Guadagnino which also stars Tilda Swinton, unfolds in Milan. The rays of sunlight, almost blinding through the camera, and the oppressive chirp of cicadas will transport you so fully that when the credits roll, you’ll wonder where you are, what year it is. Though tragic and serious, the atmosphere remains totally delicious. You’ll find yourself considering uprooting your entire existence and blowing up your life for love.

Okay. Onto some more non-Guadagninos.

Let’s mix it up with a mini-series. Honest moment, here: I hate shows (yes, even the really good ones), but I love a mini-series. The commitment over time to the television show format is rough - too many consecutive nights in front of the TV. I’m a bibliophile and there just isn’t enough lifetime to read all the good books, particularly when you’re stationed in front of a TV screen nightly. This rules out watching whole seasons of TV shows. I can’t escape the feeling that I’m wasting time, which is unusual for me. Lying in the sun daydreaming feels radically productive, IMO. But shows just always feel like, “What am I doing right now??”

Anyway, mini series. They’re a lovely cheat for feeling like you got a show in without any real lost time. One of my recent favorites is Conversations with Friends (2022), and it makes the list almost exclusively for an episode in which the main characters spend a handful of days on the coast in Croatia. There are outdoor dinners, tristes in cottages on the estate, and trips into town. It’s becoming apparent that European villas are likely a must in order to make the list, but I think that’s legit. Villas on coasts make for the best summer vibes, quite obviously. (This also generally holds for summer novels.) And Conversations with Friends does the summer villa motif well.

Finally, the last on the list for now - I’m contemplating a part two, TBH - is Maggie Gyllenhall’s 2021 film, The Lost Daughter, adapted from Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same title (also so, so good) and takes place on the coast in Italy. This one does not cast an extravagant, decaying building as one of the main characters, but the mood is there. Like I Am Love, the plotline is fraught, but the heat, the ocean, and the umbrella-studded shore provide that baked-by-summer feeling through and through. It will stay with you for the surprising social commentary as well as the stunning setting.

So, we clearly have some themes running through this sultry catalog: villas, Italy, Dakota Johnson, Luca Guadagnino, and Tilda Swinton. I’m not gonna lie. I’m totally into these elements as summer movie threads. They make for all the feels. Good films imprint a sensory experience on the viewer that lasts indefinitely. Post-watch, I can feel each of these works more than I can recall specific scenes. This exact effect is what defines that summer film genre for me. They inject you with sun and salt and that basking, tired feeling. The best kind of tired.



Photo by Graham Glover on Unsplash