Degradation has rarely felt so demeaning to protags and viewers alike as in Paolo Franchi’s “They Call It Summer.” Purporting to get inside the mind of a self-loathing anesthesiologist with a sex addiction that stems from his inability to make love to his g.f., the pic offers phony insight along with a woefully misguided sense of its own importance. Eviscerated by the press and with zero chance of popular success, despite having won the Rome fest’s director and actress awards, this first producing effort by Luciano Pavarotti’s widow, Nicoletta Mantovani, will be called many things, but not summer.
Thesp Isabella Ferrari is introduced via a vaginal closeup — the worst of many missteps, not because Franchi displays the actress’s genitals (in an image possibly inspired by the painter Gustave Courbet, though the helmer provokes without apparent deeper motivation), but because he denies her and every other woman in the film a personality. Ferrari plays Anna, the love object (we’re constantly told) of Dino (Jean-Marc Barr), and although they live together, they’re rarely in the same frame.
Dino’s adoration of Anna makes it impossible for him to perform in bed, so he unsatisfyingly assuages his unquenchable needs with swingers, hookers and sex parties. Concerned (how thoughtful!) that Anna’s own desires are being unmet, he contacts her old flames and tries to convince them to give her a roll in the hay. Instead, she has a temporary fling with a young stalker (Christian Burruano) whose over-the-top obsession pushes Anna away while making viewers snigger.
Unfavorable comparisons with “Shame” will focus on the sex-addiction elements, but Steve McQueen did more than reveal an obsession: He created three-dimensional characters whose urges felt potently real, whereas Franchi shows Dino’s mania (again and again and again) while bypassing any genuine, believable emotion. Half-hearted attempts at psychoanalysis don’t bring us any closer to Dino’s masochistic soul, and Anna is a blank slate, even though she’s given a monologue saying he makes her feel alive.
The director’s occasional use of dreamlike soft focus, frequent incorporation of reflections, and interpolated cell-phone videos speak of a pompous, woefully misguided belief in the weightiness of his vision. While he displayed a fascination with obsession in both “The Spectator” and “Fallen Heroes,” Franchi outdoes himself here: Dino’s reading of his farewell note to Anna is repeated three times, and with each repetition, the desperation of both the character and the film become increasingly risible.
The airless quality (surely deliberate) of every scene is made more artificial by the dubbing necessary for French-American thesp Barr, another strike against the pic for non-Italo arthouse crowds. The actor’s frozen exterior and general unpleasantness work against any attempt to sympathize with his intense self-hatred; viewers will probably dislike Dino as much as he dislikes himself. Ferrari, an excellent thesp in the right hands, is merely hard-edged here.
Occasional monologues addressed to the camera fail to bring the characters to life, and overexposed scenes meant to evoke dream states out of time add to the overall pretentiousness. The pic’s title comes from the classic Bruno Martino song of lost love.