Watching High Season is an experience akin to lazing back in a deck chair in the sunshine with a travel magazine. You flip through the pages, look at the attractive photos, and read a few human-interest stories before heading back inside. It's a passably entertaining way to spend an hour or so, in a low-key way, though not terribly memorable or satisfying.
That's what High Season is like; what's it about? Good question. The film takes us to a beautiful Greek island during the summer tourist season. Katherine (Jacqueline Bisset) is a photographer with a house on the island where she stays with her daughter. Katherine is on pleasant terms with her neighbors, the ambitious Yanni (Paris Tselios) whose shop caters to tourists, and his traditionalist, tourist-hating mother Penelope (Irene Papas), though Katherine is on less than amiable terms with her ex-husband Patrick (James Fox), an avant-garde sculptor who also lives on the island. However, the sunny Greek climate belies the fact that Katherine is worried about her future; her book has not been successful and she is in debt. Enter an old friend, an art historian named Sharpie (Sebastian Shaw), and a bumbling secret agent (Kenneth Branagh) posing as a man on vacation with his wife, and we get... what, exactly?
High Season never really answers that question. In many ways it appears to be a "slice of life" of a handful of characters, a snapshot taken at a particular place and time, which would account for the lack of overall narrative; yet with the introduction of Rick and Sharpie, along with a thin narrative thread about an antiquities sale, the film does try for an actual plot. It is fairly indicative of the film's overall lack of focus that I never really figured out what the "High Season" of the title refers to.
High Season is plagued by an inconsistency of tone that makes it difficult to settle into the film. Neither drama nor comedy ever establishes itself as the main thrust of the film. The characters are sketched just broadly enough to not seem entirely realistic, and some seem to have quirks just for the sake of quirkiness, such as Penelope, the Greek matron who happens to have an odd fetish for collecting nail polish, or Carol, the tourist who's caught up in the romantic ideal of Lord Byron and Greece. Considered in this light, High Season seems like a satire on tourism, featuring a gaggle of blonde "Amazons" who decide that one-breasted bikini tops are the height of fashion, and a community art project commemorating "The Unknown Tourist."
Yet on the other hand, the overall presentation of the characters seems to be trying to attain a dramatic, even tragic tone, especially with the relationship between Katherine and Sharpie. Branagh's character seems to encapsulate this contradiction in tone, as he never seems quite to know what to do with himself. At times he's fully the comic figure, the foolish Englishman out of his league, but at other times his performance has an unpleasant vituperative energy that seems out of place for the "light" character he is set up as being.
High Season's R rating offers an amusing (if unintentional) shot at the hypocrisy of U.S. attitudes toward violence and sex. We get a number of views of entirely non-sexual nudity, in the form of those single-breasted bikinis and a topless pre-teen girl on the beach (very moderate, considering the Mediterranean culture of the setting), and one shot of Branagh's naked backside. There aren't even any sex scenes; nobody gets hurt, though a few objects get broken in the course of events; I don't even recall hearing any swearing. Well, PG or PG-13 is evidently fine for physical violence, bathroom humor, and on-screen killing as long as there's not too much gore, but on the merits of an innocuous bare female breast or two, the MPAA awards High Season an R. Kids would probably not find High Season the slightest bit interesting, but parents at least should know that there's no reason to exclude the rest of the family from the living room if Mom or Dad has decided to rent it for the night.
Presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, High Season looks reasonably good, but it's not without faults. The 1987 film's print has a substantial number of flaws such as scratches, which show up mainly in the beginning of the film but do also recur at other points. There's also a fair amount of noise in the image, which contributes to a general softness of the picture. Fortunately, edge enhancement is minimal. Color and contrast are at opposite ends of the quality spectrum for this DVD. Night-time scenes, of which there are a fair number, look distinctly worse than the rest of the film, with the black having a grayish tone, grain being visible, and inadequate contrast resulting in loss of detail. On a more positive note, the daylight scenes in the film look very nice, with warm, attractive colors that come across both vividly and cleanly.
High Season gets good marks for its soundtrack, which is a Dolby mono track that doesn't show the typical mono limitations. As High Season is a largely dialogue-based film, the lack of surround sound isn't much of a fault. The sound overall is crisp and clean, with all the dialogue sounding natural, and with frequent environmental music along with the soundtrack's musical score both balanced correctly with the rest of the track.
High Season comes with a selection of subtitles, in English, French, and Spanish; all are generated by the DVD player rather than burned-in. This turns out to be relevant since there is a fair amount of Greek spoken in the film. If you select "no subtitles," there are English subtitles provided for the Greek dialogue; if you select Spanish or French subtitles, both the Greek and the English dialogue is subtitled in Spanish or French. (Bilingual Greek/English speakers are out of luck, as there's no way to have absolutely no subtitles at all.)
Apart from the subtitles, and a pan-and-scan version of the film on the flip side of the disc, the only special feature is a trailer.
I don't regret having seen High Season, but it didn't impress me, either. A film with a few mildly interesting elements that never come into focus in terms of either character or plot, High Season may be passable as a rental.