When I told a friend I was going alone on a trip to Venice this summer, he said, “Oh, you’ll probably have this great affair just like in the movie SUMMERTIME.” I remember laughing and having a vague recollection of Katharine Hepburn falling in love, wandering along the canals of Venice with handsome Italian Rossano Brazzi.
Unfortunately, an affair like theirs didn’t happen to me when I was there.
Fortunately, however, this 1955 classic film, directed by David Lean, perfectly captures the essence of Venice and the experience of being a woman of a certain age traveling alone. I watched this film after my trip. I wish I would have watched it before I went.
The film is a cinematic stunner, a love letter to one of the most romantic and surreal cities in the world. Every scene captures the light, the air, the visual magic of Venice — and also its timelessness. The train speeding across the canal, the jumble of people boarding the water taxis, tourists wandering down the narrow streets, the rows of palaces, the breathtaking expanse of Piazza San Marco, the white coated waiters at the cafes, and of course, the canals and the sparkling water. Nothing much has changed. Venice is the same today as it was in 1955, which is just like Venice was in 1455. It is “The Eternal City.”
And the story of people searching for love is eternal as well.
Miss Hepburn is remarkable in her portrayal of Ohio secretary Jane Hudson. She is a self-sufficient woman, who saved her money so that she could take her dream vacation. With her movie camera in hand, she is spirited and gutsy, beautiful and charming, excited about the adventure that awaits her.
She also realizes there is a bittersweetness attached to solo travel when her landlady asks, “You don’t mind traveling alone?” Jane likes it, she says. She is an independent soul. But there is also a slight sting with the question. It would be better if such a lovely experience could be shared. She is vulnerable, yes. She is open to possibilities.
Hepburn is nervous about her attraction to Brazzi as they first meet at an outdoor cafe. She is drawn to the potential affair but she also resists. When Brazzi tells her that “It’s better to take home more than Venetian glass,” you know that the fireworks will eventually happen. With her free spirit in force, she considers the pro’s and con’s and then goes after what she wants, transformed by the romance that beckons. She buys a lovely pair of impractical shoes, and like Cinderella, she becomes the beautiful princess. Violins play. You root for the both of them.
The only way for their love to remain as eternal as Venice, they have to part. Jane knows that she has a life back in Ohio. And she knows that her lover has a life in Venice. She ends the affair on her own terms.
If I had re-watched this film before I went on my trip, maybe it would have gone differently. I would have stayed longer in Venice. I would have tried harder not to feel so conspicuous and awkward sitting alone in the Piazza San Marco (along with so many other middle-aged ladies). And I would have bought those red shoes that I wanted. Maybe they would have been as magical as the ones that Hepburn’s character buys.