One of France’s most popular leading men of the post-war era, actor Jean-Louis Trintignant first achieved a measure of notoriety playing opposite Brigitte Bardot in Roger Vadim’s lowbrow Et Dieu… créa la femme (And God Created Woman, 1957), then skyrocketed to international fame via the massive box-office hit Un homme et une femme (A Man and a Woman, 1966).
More cerebral than Alain Delon, less earthy than Jean-Paul Belmondo, Trintignant blended Joseph Cotten earnestness with Anthony Perkins neurosis, his signature performance remaining (for me, at least) the nameless prosecutor delivering righteous justice to the fascist generals in Costa-Gavras’ Z (1969). For those interested in exploring the more obscure corners of his filmography, however, you can’t do better than Estate Violenta (Violent Summer, 1959), a romantic melodrama screening at Pacific Film Archive at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 9th as part of the series ‘And God Created Jean-Louis Trintignant’.
Trintignant headlines as Carlo Caremoli, the son of a well-connected but deeply unloved National Fascist Party bigwig. It’s 1943, and, though the Allies have already invaded Sicily, the beautiful people of the north have barely noticed. Neither Carlo nor any of his 20-something pals have enlisted, and, though happy to give lip service to wounded veterans prefer, spending their days dancing, sunbathing, and chasing girls.
Indeed, should wartime ever intrude on their endless summer, the response is swift and merciless. At a dinner party hosted by Carlo’s girlfriend Rosanna (the lovely Jacqueline Sassard), guests react to the latest military news by quickly switching to a neutral Swiss station, where non-stop dance music remains available.
Such willful ignorance, however, cannot stand: the next day, a relaxing afternoon turns terrifying when a Luftwaffe fighter buzzes the beach, sending panicked sun worshipers running in all directions. Amid the confusion, Carlo comforts a small child and meets her mother, Roberta (Eleanora Rossi Drago), a moneyed war widow with a live-in nanny and a mansion with a marble staircase.
Though at least a decade apart in age, Carlo and Roberta are immediately attracted to each another, and their relationship slowly but surely develops from smoldering glances to furtive snogging. Not so much a May-December romance as a June-November one, it’s clear their affair is unlikely to outlast the season.
Writer-director Valerio Zurlini’s primary focus is this forbidden relationship; his secondary, the sheltered and privileged lives of the film’s characters, who only have to travel a few miles down to the road to neutral San Marino to score as many cigarettes and as much coffee as they can afford.
Though the war is secondary to Zurlini’s vision, its eventual arrival is intense and explosive. The fall of Mussolini leads to the ransacking of local Fascist Party headquarters (and the confiscation of the Caremoli estate), and the film concludes amid a shocking, impressively staged aerial attack.
There are unexpected parallels between Violent Summer and Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, a film released to considerably greater acclaim only a year later. It’s hard to imagine Fellini’s examination of the empty, pleasure-driven lives of wealthy young Italians wasn’t influenced by Zurlini’s, who even included a Felliniesque circus scene in Violent Summer. And is it only by coincidence that this film takes place in Rimini – the town in which Fellini was born in 1920?
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.
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