The Quarantine Stream: 'Summertime' Is David Lean's Love Letter To Venice

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they've been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)The MovieSummertimeWhere You Can Stream It: HBO MaxThe Pitch: The great Katharine Hepburn plays Jane Hudson, a middle-aged single woman from Akron, Ohio who travels to Venice, Italy for a lengthy summer vacation. She has a gnawing sense that something is missing in her life, but finds herself yearning for adventure and being overly cautious at the same time. That's when she meets Renato (Rossano Brazzi), an Italian shop owner, and eventually throws caution to the wind and embraces a summer romance.Why It's Essential Viewing: Hepburn is a big draw, of course, but the film's biggest selling point is that the entire thing was shot on location in Venice, and it looks absolutely beautiful. Director David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia) infuses the movie with an intoxicating sense of wonder and exploration, and the real locations mixed with the summer setting often make it seem as if you can feel and smell the city as the characters walk through it. 

Ten years before this, Lean made a movie called Brief Encounter, which features a man and a woman, both married, who meet in a train station and begin a passionate but short-lived affair. The filmmaker treads some similar ground here, but sets the story against the beautiful backdrop of Venice circa 1955, which enhances the sweeping grandeur and lush romance of the tale. The primary love story in Summertime is messy and complicated and occasionally a bit explosive, but Lean and co-writer H.E. Bates always center Hepburn's character in the narrative and give her enough agency to make the relationship feel raw and realistic.

Summertime is also one of the best vacation movies I've ever seen. Hepburn's character carries a handheld video camera with her, and the first several minutes of the film allow us to see Venice through her eyes as she enters the city on a train, boards a boat through the canals to her hotel, and wanders through the city in quietly content tourist mode, occasionally capturing sights with her camera that catch her eye. If you've never been to Venice (and I have not yet had that pleasure), it's the kind of movie that will make you want to start planning a trip immediately.