There’s nothing new under the sun in “Summer Games,” a beautifully shot and mostly well-acted drama that crudely juxtaposes the occasionally overlapping worlds of adults and children at an Italo campground. Latest feature by Rolanda Colla, a Swiss director of Italian descent, is credited to a staggering five screenwriters (including the helmer) but struggles to come up with something original to say; the grown-up characters’ pre-divorce bickering in particular amounts to a pileup of threadbare cliches. Good-looking pic will rep Switzerland in the foreign-language Oscar derby and has lined up a few scattered niche theatrical outings in continental Europe.
Set at a campsite on the sunny Italian coast, “Games” initially focuses on sulky rebel kid Nic (Armando Condolucci), who’s at odds with his somewhat crass working-class dad, Vincenzo (Antonio Merone). They’re on vacation with Nic’s kid brother, Agostino (Marco d’Orazi), and the boys’ mom, Adriana (Alessia Barela), whose marriage to Vincenzo clearly has seen better days.
When defending Agostino’s honor, Nic (short for Nicola) gets into a scuffle with Marie (Fiorella Campanella), a girl from French-speaking Switzerland who also speaks Italian. She’s also on vacation with her family, which includes a younger sibling (Chiara Scolari). As often happens with kids, their mutual animosity is swiftly forgotten when bigger group adventures beckon, namely a rickety shed in a nearby cornfield that becomes the hideout of the two sibling sets and a local kid (Francesco Huang).
Though the daredevilry, cruelty and uninhibited nature of the children’s games seem somewhat familiar, Colla finds exactly the right tone for this material, remaining observant without becoming sensationalistic, preachy or too detached. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the film’s portrait of Nic’s parents, who seem stuck not so much in a loveless marriage as in a basic template of conjugal strife. The way Colla and his small army of writers contrast the overbearing presence of Nic’s dad, who has anger-management issues, with the fact that Marie, Nic’s potential paramour, has no father, is so on-the-nose it loses any symbolic or subterranean impact.
After a somewhat wobbly start, young Condolucci grows into his role and gets some strong scenes in which he becomes the narrative linchpin, embodying that difficult age when kids become aware that some things their parents do aren’t right, but haven’t come into their own enough to forthrightly dismiss authority. Opposite him, Campanella is less consistent, while Merone in particular is boxed in by weak character development. Other performers are generally fine.
Besides Condolucci, the film’s other star is no doubt the cinematography of newcomer Lorenz Merz, which luxuriates in sun-dappled and penumbral settings and bronzed summer skin tones. It achieves a level of contrasts and detail that’s rarely seen on HD films (shot here with the Red camera) and should catapult him to the top of the list of young lensers to work with in Euroland.