10:30 PM Summer Is director Jules Dassin's sixth film starring his talented wife, Greek actress Melina Mercouri. After the comic caper success Topkapi he collaborated with novelist Marguerite Duras on this small-scale tale of love and death in Spain. Duras' highly atmospheric story observes the erotic tension between three travelers that cross paths with a hunted murderer.
The title 10:30 PM Summer is a tip-off to director Dassin's exacting approach to a tale of intimate emotions. After showing us Rodrigo's violent crime of passion we stay mostly with the alcoholic, troubled Maria and her traveling partners. Their specific relationships remain unexplained. Something happened between Paul and Maria in Italy a few years back, perhaps an indiscretion, but we're not sure who was at fault. Maria has invited Claire knowing full well that Paul is attracted to the younger woman; Claire confides to Paul that she thinks Maria brought her along because she wants to encourage an affair.
The moody and alcoholic Maria consistently expresses her affection for both of her traveling companions. Ambiguous verbal references and a shared shower make us wonder if Maria and Claire aren't themselves attracted to one another. Maria is devastated when she sees Paul and Claire embracing, yet does not confront them. She instead throws herself into a foolhardy effort to spirit Rodrigo away from the police. Rodrigo Palestra's primitive jealousy is thematically contrasted with the more 'civilized' but less honest dealings between the affluent tourists.
Neither in the commercial mainstream nor a fully committed art house entry, 10:30 PM Summer has good performances and an involving storyline. Mercouri is drawn to risk everything to help the desperate fugitive, but she's not after a physical relationship. Paul, Maria and Claire are unusual partners in an unstated ménage à trois; at one point Maria cannot distinguish whether she dreamed of Paul and Claire making love, or if it really happened. Dassin and Duras (a literary master of muted erotic encounters) keep the details vague, which will frustrate viewers expecting a Peyton Place level of transparency. As it is, the movie replicates the romantic confusions of real life. Each participant has an individualized impression of what's going on.
Dassin's sensitive direction is matched by excellent color cinematography by Gábor Pogány that bathes the attractive leads in rich, warm colors. Mercouri is fascinating -- in a couple of scenes she drops the heavy eye makeup -- and the younger Schneider is a vision. The two or three sex scenes are brief but hypnotic. Peter Finch is less interesting but makes a credible straying husband. Pogány captures contrasting atmospheres perfectly: an inviting hotel, midnight rainfall, a smoky flamenco club and dawn breaking over the dry Spanish landscape.
The final couple of reels lack urgency. Maria apparently opts for a new notion of 'love', and the story resolves only on a thematic level. The Antonioni-like finish is vaguely comical, when Paul and Claire run through Madrid at dawn shouting for Maria. It's such a common Spanish name that we expect every window door to open in answer.
MGM/Fox's DVD of 10:30 PM Summer is stunning in a glorious enhanced transfer. The rich color knocks us out immediately in a title sequence of hands clapping to a flamenco rhythm. Stereo tracks are available in English and French, although English appears to be the language used on the set; subs appear in English and Spanish. No extras are offered. This DVD release leads us to hope that Dassin's earlier Phaedra might be next from MGM. It stars Ms. Mercouri, Anthony Perkins, Raf Vallone and has an intoxicating music score by Mikis Theodorakis.
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10:30 PM Summer rates:
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