The sojourn into eastern European cinema continues with a film from renowned Romanian director Lucian Pintilie, the Franco-Romanian production, “Un Été Inoubliable” [Romanian Title: O Vara de Neuitat, English Title: An Unforgettable Summer].
Multifaceted Pintilie started making films in communist Romania, but moved to France in order to pursue his career until the 1989 Romanian Revolution. But even while in France, he often interpreted Romanian literature and its culture in his work. Noted for his stark yet lyrical depictions while examining themes relating to his region, its culture, politics, and conflicts, Pintilie, considered among the world’s leading film makers, had his career interrupted several times, mostly due to censorship from communist authorities. Having seen a handful of his films, I have begun to thoroughly enjoy discovering his filmography. Rest assured, we will be discussing more of his films here too.
About the film:
For those like me who are not well acquainted with eastern Europe in general, there are several informative nuggets in this film that will give a pretty good picture of the region’s recent history, and it also makes connections to tumultuous happenings in neighbouring Yugoslavia during the time of the film’s production. Pintilie himself admits to have been inspired by events next door to explore the screenplay from a balkanisation perspective – the symptoms and causes. He also establishes through subtle means his appreciation of communism as an inherently good idea badly executed by people. We even have brilliant satire of hypocrisy in high places, and widespread xenophobia getting in the way of realising a Greater Romania that they’re trying to create.
Petre Dumitriu, a respected Army captain, and his charming wife and mother of three Marie-Thérèse attend a ball organised in honour of the prince, who also happens to be the Army’s Chief of Staff. Marie-Thérèse has aristocratic roots too – she’s a niece of the royal family, and her father belonged to the Magyar (Hungarian) aristocracy, the fact her maternal relatives openly resent. After noticing the prince openly making advances on his wife (which Marie-Thérèse politely spurns), Petre is furious but helpless in standing up to a superior. He asks to be transferred to a different location, and the prince, out of spite assigns him to a garrison in a restive and godforsaken border outpost. While disappointed initially at the Spartan living conditions, Petre, Marie-Thérèse, their beautiful children, and their nanny decide to make the best out of a bad situation. The optimist in Marie-Thérèse almost succeeds against odds to establish themselves in the new environment by befriending local Bulgarians and keeping everyone’s spirits up. But when some soldiers are killed in an ambush by militants, the inept army headquarters must find a scapegoat, and the locals tending to Marie-Thérèse’s salad garden are targeted for extra-judicial execution, one that Petre objects to knowing pretty well he could loose his job, and he does. And there is someone always at hand to replace Petre, but despite this Marie-Thérèse tries to save her gardeners’ lives…
This is not a light film by any means – as engrossing as it was, it was also uneasy to watch, and in a way I was a bit relieved when it ended. The screenplay is very well structured, the art direction is magnificent, and the cinematography shines in places – notably the frantic opening scene which give us a horseback saddle-seated view. Well performed by all the main actors, British-born Kristin Scott Thomas sparkles as the stoic heroine Marie-Thérèse von Debretzy, a noble woman who tries in vain to stop bloodshed around her. Needless to say, this film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Beatha Fülop and Kristin Scott Thomas
Made from two scenes – the first is of Erji, a Hungarian (and communist) prostitute who moons at the prince and gathered crowd, and is promptly ordered to be ‘removed’. The funny part however is, for all their holier-than-though attitude, everyone seems to remember her by name, without even looking at the owner’s face! Feisty Erji is played by Beatha Fülop. The second is a famous nude scene of Marie-Thérèse bathing with her children in very little privacy, and soldiers moving about, some stopping by to stare. Petre himself finds it hard keeping his hands off his wife, but it appears not everyone is pleased to see them either. Marie-Thérèse is played by the BAFTA-winning, beautiful, and intelligent British-born actress Kristin Scott Thomas. Now that’s, a rose..! 😉