SUMMER GAMES – Review by Chance Huskey

SUMMER GAMES - Review by Chance Huskey

If you begin to feel nostalgic during Rolando Colla’s Summer Games, do not be so surprised. Even if you aren’t familiar with the Tuscan seaside, if you aren’t fluent in both French and Italian, or if the city of Porto Santo Stefano doesn’t ring a bell, you may find the themes at the heart of Summer Games — young love, the pull of family history, the overlap between socioeconomic strata — very familiar.

That is not to play down the importance of time and place in this film. It is quite apparent that for Colla, a Swiss citizen of Italian heritage, Summer Games carries a particular weight. The film was released in Switzerland in the fall of 2011, during which Italy’s sovereign debt rating was downgraded by both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, while Switzerland had the highest average of wealth per adult of any country. This economic disparity is manifest in the film’s two protagonists, a Roman boy named Nic and a girl from Geneva named Marie, who find themselves and their families situated in a commercial marine campsite in the western Italian region of Tuscany. As a popular tourist destination, the town attracts guests from a wide array of ethnic and national backgrounds. The gang of children at the center of the story is a melting pot in miniature. While their families eye each other suspiciously, the children are far more trusting, the inheritors of a world (and region) in which national identity has become ever more complicated.

Disinclined to relax around their parents, these children seem entirely capable of fending for themselves. Nic and Marie use their cellphones as if by second nature, exchanging between them some of the most memorable sounds and images of the film. Indeed, Colla seems fascinated by technology’s relationship to shifting identities and perspectives. As the eponymous games become increasingly heated, Nic and Marie frequently bluff about whether or not they can feel pain. The games become out-of-body experiences; “pretend you’re someone else,” the children often repeat. Lorenz Merz’s incredibly agile camera work mirrors the children’s shifting perspectives; notice the many sequences shot from unconventional angles. These children struggle with senses of identity that, in the new millenium, are far more fluid than those of their parents.

Over the course of Summer Games, the campgrounds and surrounding countryside seem to morph into Never Never Land, complete with the not infrequent threat of bodily harm. With outsized agency, the children take control over a derelict farmhouse. One game they play, a variation of hide-and-seek, has one child assuming the role of killer, another of judge, and another of victim; the film’s most intense and rewarding moments come in seeing how each character responds to varying degrees of empowerment and violation. It is in the sequences that we also begin to understand how the spectres of the children’s parents inform their behavior, often subconsciously. While of course this is readily apparent to us in the audience, we can still identify with the horror of recognizing our parents in ourselves.

Early on in Summer Games, as Nic lies in bed, he observes on the side of his tent the shadow of an insect. Beautiful as it is, for Nic it is a sinister, early warning of nature’s imminence. He knows that, as his family becomes more marginalized, the prospect of personal failure – not unlike his father’s – becomes ever more likely. Nic’s dread of familial entrapment and genetic destiny casts a dark, urgent shadow over his feelings for Marie; it is as if, through his love for her, he hopes to become a different person. Summer Games may not have all the answers, but it does capture the period in our youths during which our glimmers of hope shine brightest, during which we feel we can learn from each other in a small effort to correct the mistakes of countless generations.

Summer Games is a Swiss production, and was released in Switzerland in October of 2011. It was screened at the 68th Venice International Film Festival and the 36th Toronto International Film Festival, among many others. The film was selected as Switzerland’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film award for the 84th Academy Awards. It has been theatrically distributed in countries throughout Europe, but does not yet have an American distributor.

– Chance Huskey
New York University, Cinema Studies

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