Many people are heading out on their summer vacations, while many others of us are simply dreaming about the relaxing, exotic summer vacation we’d like to take. Fortunately, there are several streaming movies on Hulu Plus (and one on Netflix) to help. Not only are these movies set in other countries (no passport required) but also have a kind of easygoing, summery pace. Don’t bother packing any bags or struggling through airport security. Just sit back and enjoy.
Filmed in then-Czechoslovakia, Capricious Summer (1968) tells the story of three middle-aged friends, who like to relax and discuss Big Ideas by a rundown old swimming hole. Unfortunately, their bliss is interrupted when a second-rate circus performer happens by, with a beautiful blonde assistant in tow. The Czech New Wave director Jiri Menzel makes this particular summer a gray and drizzly one, emphasizing aching nostalgia, sexual longing, and loss. Menzel also made the great Closely Watched Trains in 1966, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (and is also available streaming on Hulu Plus).
Heading over to France, we unwind with Eric Rohmer’s Claire’s Knee (1971). No one made better summer movies in France than director Rohmer. He was the master of stories about intelligent characters falling in love and talking about it, and this is one of the most summery and relaxing of his films. On the verge of marrying, 35 year-old Jerome (Jean-Claude Brialy) returns to his hometown for summer and meets up with an old writer friend Aurora (Aurora Cornu). On Aurora’s urging, Jerome tries to seduce Laura (Beatrice Romand), though it means nothing to him. But when teen Claire (Laurence de Monaghan) turns up, Jerome becomes entranced by her knee and feels an overwhelming urge to caress it. Rohmer and cinematographer Nestor Almendros employ a wonderful use of outdoors and weather to emphasize the film’s mix of ideas and emotions.
Going back to a simpler time in France, Jean Vigo’s classic L’Atalante (1934) still ranks as one of the greatest films ever made. It concerns a young bride (Dita Parlo) who marries the captain of a barge (Jean Dasté) and immediately—walking from the chapel to the boat—sets off on a voyage, sharing space with the bawdy, tattooed second mate Jules (Michel Simon), a cabin boy (Louis Lefebvre), and several cats. Vigo gives the movie a poetic touch, tuning into emotions and physical space more than any plot. It’s not exactly a beach movie, but it does have water and romance. Vigo only completed four films before dying of tuberculosis at age 29. L’Atalante received a belated U.S. release in the summer of 1947.
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel "The Talented Mr. Ripley," Rene Clement’s Purple Noon focuses on a handsome and charismatic—but somehow average and amoral—young man named Ripley (played beautifully by Alain Delon) who concocts a scheme to murder his wealthy companion and assume his identity. His general blandness allows him to fit in, and his skill for forgery helps. The film does a magnificent job of implying eroticism and homoeroticism without showing it flat out, and uses its bold colors and warm Italian locations to gorgeous effect. The sinister occurs within the confines of the beautiful, like a disease eating away a beautiful tree from the inside.
Italy might be a great place for a summer vacation according to Federico Fellini’s easygoing nostalgic Amarcord (1973), even though it takes place mostly over the course of a year. It begins with the arrival of the puffballs on the wind, signaling that spring has arrived, with summer just around the corner. Supposedly based on Fellini’s childhood, it more or less centers on young Titta (Bruno Zanin), though the town as a whole is really the main character. But it’s also set in the 1930s, during the Fascists’ control of Italy, and the film suggests that the townspeoples’ complacency is a result of being controlled and free from making decisions. Regardless, the film’s characters are not bad folks, and it’s easy to feel connected with them. Amarcord (at top) won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Sticking around in Italy for a bit, we just have time for Gianni Di Gregorio’s Mid-August Lunch (2008). Di Gregorio (one of the co-writers on Gomorrah) wrote, directed, and stars in this unique recipe, a bittersweet comedy/drama, with a dash of realism. Di Gregorio plays the middle-aged Gianni, who lives in Rome with his aged mother; when the August holidays roll around, Gianni can’t afford to go anywhere, and neither can he leave his mother by herself. Gianni finds that others are in the same boat, and eventually there are four old ladies and Gianni. He decides to cook them all a big meal for the August 15 holiday, trying to make everyone happy. But happiness comes in many forms. Gian Enrico Bianchi provides the outstanding cinematography, both hot and gritty.
Another filmmaker that focused on the rhythms of the seasons was Japan’s Yasujiro Ozu. Ozu’s long career, stretching over 53 films from the silent era to the early 1960s, consists of meticulous family dramas made with a singularly easy, relaxed rhythm. He preferred low camera angles, and generally stretched a film’s pace with “pillow shots” (shots of laundry drying or trains passing by, say). Early Summer (1951) is from his best period, starring the great Setsuko Hara as Noriko, a 28-year-old office worker who is happy being unmarried. She wears a warm, wonderful smile, as if constantly amused by the strangeness and goodness of the world. However, her brother, Koichi (Chishu Ryu) begins trying to set her up. Ozu’s later film The End of Summer (1961) is also available streaming.
Y tu mama tambien
Alfonso Cuaron’s sexy Mexican road trip movie Y tu mama tambien (2001) was a summer hit in America when released here in 2002, despite its subtitles. Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna play best friends who unexpectedly have the summer free when their girlfriends fly off to Italy. They meet a sexy older woman (Maribel Verdu) at a wedding. When her husband cheats on her, she agrees to accompany the boys on an impromptu road trip to see a fantastic beach (which does not exist). The boys simply hope that they can both complete this conquest before their impetuousness wears off, but fate has other plans. The movie is overall optimistic, using sun-baked backroads, joyous music, and tasty-looking food and drink to sustain its carnal essence.
Smiles of a Summer Night
The Swedish director Ingmar Bergman is known for his somber, tortured character studies, but his early hit Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) shows his more fun-loving side. It takes place over a weekend at a summer house, where all the players have sex on the brain. Two lovers find each other during the weekend and decide to run away. Happily, Bergman doesn’t paint any single character as a buffoon or a villain; this is not a sitcom. Everyone here has a personality and a reason to exist. The director already has a strong sense of control over his material, but this confidence only allows things to loosen up more easily. Interestingly, Bergman made two other “summer” movies, Summer Interlude (1951) and Summer with Monika (1953), both available streaming at Hulu.
All of this brings us back to America, and the summer of 2013, where one of the most fascinating movies of the year has quietly made the rounds through art houses and a DVD/Blu-ray release. It made its Netflix streaming debut in June. Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color (2013) is the long-awaited follow-up to his brainy, low-budget time travel movie Primer (2004). Its story has something to do with a kidnapping/brainwashing scheme, as well as a potent relationship drama. The plot is not entirely clear on a casual, first viewing, but Carruth’s rhythms are simply intoxicating and he makes you want to pay attention and dig deeper into the movie’s many mysteries.
- Benny and Joon (7/1)
- The Boxer (7/1)
- Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (7/1)
- Cookie’s Fortune (7/1)
- Rolling Thunder
- Tokyo Godfathers (7/1)
- The Truman Show (7/1)
- Twins (7/1)
- Play It Again Sam (7/1)