The American theatergoer has come, over the past few years, to expect a certain sexual frankness in every European film, and his expectations will again be realized if he goes to see the latest French-Italian export to Boston, Passionate Summer.
This improbable, naturalist effort maintains an atmosphere of sexual tension throughout its entire length, and for those who are looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, director Charles Brabant has arranged for a rather detailed filming of the birth of a goat to lead up to its climactic point.
The unnecessary shock of this abrupt focussing on the mother goat in the throes of giving birth to her kid is typical of the entire film. Passionate Summer is very much overdone.
The actual story tells, in slightly more than two hours, what happens when a healthy young Italian peasant, played by Raf Vallone, comes to live in an isolated country house with three women.
Angelo learned about the oldest woman from her husband during the war. By the time the husband dies in battle, he has told Angelo so much about his wife and family that Angelo feels he must find them and become the new head of the family, or so he tells us near the beginning of the film.
Upon arriving at "Goat Island," Angelo finds his friend's wife, younger sister, and only child, a blossoming girl of about fifteen. The sister, Pia, played by Magali Noel, is bored by farm life and wants excitement. Immediately upon Angelo's arrival she sets her sights on him and goes efficiently about the task of seducing him. Being an obliging sort, Angelo is quick to relieve Pia's boredom, and only five minutes after his arrival he is embracing her. She resists, playfully.
But the real purpose of Angelo's trip was to become acquainted with his friend's wife. This he does rather successfully, and after a few moments of mistrust and pride, the wife, played by Madeleine Robinson, is spending her nights with Angelo.
At this point, the rivalry between Agatha and Pia comes into the open. Pia had long resented Agatha's position as head of the house, her insistence on order and hard work, and her strong pride. Their new rivalry for the complete affection of Angelo brings all former dislikes to the surface.
What saves the film from being a dull recounting of a jealous relationship between two women is the presence of Agatha's daughter, Sylvia, played by Dany Carrel. She remembers her mother's early devotion to her dead father and resents deeply Agatha's intimacy with Angelo. At the same time, she is just coming into her womanhood and feels a powerful physical attraction for Angelo, thus entering into a triangle of jealously with her mother and Pia.
Sylvia's entire emotional crisis reaches the breaking point when she enters the barn and threatens Angelo with a loaded pistol. Suddenly her eyes fall on the goat giving birth to its young. This grotesquely summarizes her awakening to womanhood, her child's devotion to her parents, and her desire to be loved by Angelo. She runs from the barn crying, "I want to die."
The scene is over-written, as is the entire picture. There are too many scenes of boudoir and barnyard love. The character of Angelo is quite unbelievable. He is presented as the kind, gentle, fun-loving peasant, a sort of Italian Burt Lancaster.
The ending is somewhat of a shock, and yet once it begins to unfold, the entire climax is obvious. Angelo falls in the well, thus isolating the dramatic conflict between Agatha, Pia and Sylvia. Their love for Angelo finally devolves into an unsure hatred of him; yet each woman wants Angelo, and in the end no one gets him.
At the film's completion, one cannot help but feel that the story was largely a vehicle for sex, and certainly every character, in his or her own way, fairly radiates sex appeal. Each actor does his job well, but each one, regrettably, does it too often.