When an artist makes a masterpiece, it can be difficult to accept a work from that same artist that is merely good, well made, or fun. Lina Wertmüller encountered this type of prejudice towards the films she wrote and directed in the late Seventies and beyond. No matter how good one of those movies might be, they were always measured by the impossible standard of Seven Beauties (1975), one of the greatest films to ever come out of Italy and a true masterpiece. Still, Wertmüller’s later output shouldn’t be ignored, as she has always been, and remains, a filmmaker of big ideas, sharp-edged humor, and a great visual sense.
In 1986, she produced the comedy Summer Night, a.k.a. Summer Night with Greek Profile, Almond Eyes and Scent of Basil. The film reunited Wertmüller with actress Mariangela Melato, who had starred in three of the directors celebrated Seventies films, most notably Swept Away (1974). In the film, Melato (looking barely any older than in Swept Away) plays Fulvia Bolk, a rich industrialist who hatches a scheme to turn the tables on a terrorist group that has been extorting money from her millionaire friends through kidnapping. Bolk hires an ex-CIA agent, Salvatore “Turi” Cantalamessa (Roberto Herlitzka), who looks more like a cartoon mafioso than a U.S. spy, to kidnap Giuseppe Cantania (Michele Placido), the beefy leader of the criminal gang. Blindfolded and bound with designer chains, Cantania is hidden away in Bolk’s villa on her private Mediterranean island, while the industralist waits for the terrorists to respond to her ransom demands.
As in her previous film, Swept Away, Wertmüller sets the stage for a battle between the sexes and classes in Summer Night. However, there is a much different approach taken to that conflict in the latter film. In terms of the characters, there isn’t as clear a difference in social class between the warring parties as there was in Swept Away. Fulva Bolk comes from a higher social strata than Cantania, but it is mentioned that through illegal means, he is actually richer than her. Bolk even marvels at the fact that they own the same jacket. Also, whereas Melato’s character in Swept Away was fairly nasty prior to her adventures on the island, in Summer Night, neither lead starts or ends as a true villain. Cantania may be a terrorist, but he doesn’t harm his victims, and he is in the weaker position for most of the film. And Fulvia Bolk may be rich and demanding, but she made her money by making the world a better place through ecological efforts.
The approach to the story is also much lighter in Summer Night than in Wertmüller‘s Seventies films. Summer Night is a more overt comedy, which borders on being cartoonish at times. The stakes may be lower, but there is also much more fun to be had. Swept Away will always be considered the better film, but Summer Night is more enjoyable. As a result, of the two films, I think I will likely revisit Summer Night more often.
Italy/C-103m./Dir: Lina Wertmüller/Wr: Lina Wertmüller/Cast: Mariangela Melato, Michele Placido, Roberto Herlitzka, Massimo Wertmüller, John Steiner, Arnaldo Ninchi
If You Like: If you enjoyed the sea-swept beauty and romance of Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away (1974), you will probably find much to like in Summer Night.
Video: Kino Lorber’s
Summer Night [Blu-ray] presents a new 2K restoration of the film. The 2006 DVD release was good for its time, but the new Blu-ray is still a major upgrade in terms of picture and sound quality. The blues of the Mediterranean and vibrant colors of Melato’s costumes really pop on this disc; and the fine detail of the scan brings out textures of the set, fabrics, and vegetation that were absent in previous video releases. The original Italian audio is clear and warm.
The Blu-ray disc is more bare bones than Kino’s previous Wertmüller releases, but with such a fine presentation of this lesser-known film, it is hard to complain. What you do receive in addition to the film are:
- Original trailers for several Wertmüller films. These are the same trailers included on the Blu-rays of Swept Away and Seven Beauties.
- Booklet essays by film critic Simon Abrams
Streaming: Summer Night is available for digital purchase or rental on Amazon, but it isn’t currently available as part of a streaming subscription package.
More to Explore: If you want to dig deeper into the director’s filmography, Kino has also released the
Lina Wertmuller Collection (Love & Anarchy, The Seduction of Mimi, All Screwed Up) (3-Disc Set) [Blu-ray],
Swept Away [Blu-ray],
Seven Beauties [Blu-ray], and
Ferdinando and Carolina [Blu-ray].
Trivia: Summer Night was meant to be the second in a trilogy of “Summer” films by Lina Wertmüller, the first being Swept Away. She has yet to make her third “Summer” film, but while Wertmüller’s alive, there’s still hope.
For More Info: Reference the documentary
Behind the White Glasses or the book
Man in Disorder: The Cinema of Lina Wertmller in the 1970s (Troubador Italian Studies).