I have had it with aristocracies. Corrupt, sleek, lascivious queer or cruel, Italian, French or Spanish, they all amount to the same thing on the screen: vacuity writ large. But the most banal set of all lives in Argentina. Its members are as vapid, unsophisticated and coarse a covey of brightly feathered birds as I have seen in film. Leopoldo Torre Nilsson (director of End of Innocence) records their antics in Summerskin, a cheap and pretentious story in the worst possible taste.
Consider the plot for a moment. Alfredo Alcon is going to die in a week or so. His mother persuades Graciella Borges to be his mistress by promising her a trip to Paris following the funeral. After a few days of amorous ghoulash, Alcon's doctors tell him he will live. When Borges hears this, she lets him know for the first time about her bargain with his mother. He shoots himself in despair; she goes to Paris. All these witty antics take place in a seaside retreat as elegant as suburban Miami. At least the Italians have St. Peter's or the Borghese Gardens for a backdrop; in Argentina there are ranch houses and shopping centers. The European haut monde diverts itself with chic and decadent parties, but in Argentina the big money falls back on canasta and TV westerns for its kicks.
Chronicles of society always run the same risk. To be successful they must contain a wealth of imaginative surface detail; otherwise the fundamental emptiness of high society--its weary monotony and mindless glitter--loom oppressively. Nilsson fails to achieve any sort of dash or verve; he also cheats us by pretending to human insights where there are none.
As the morbid romance progresses, there is no way to tell whether Miss Borges falls in love with Alcon or remains simply a cold fish. This is the type of question the story seems to pose, but Nilsson lamely answers it only at the end of the film and never creates more than the machanical semblance of a love affair, or of any clear personal relations.
He spins out his story like a chess problem: The pawns can move in only one direction; when they move as far as they can, the game is over and that is that.
Don't be misled by the lurid ads either. Summer-skin is neither torrid, frank nor provocative; it is in fact a puerile tease. Perhaps he has acted wisely in avoiding graphic scenes, since the one time he allows lovemaking to advance beyond a kiss, he loses sight of good taste entirely. Alcon's buxom nurse bursts in on her patient while he is drying himself after a shower. She grabs him, engulfs him with heavy snorts and slavering kisses, and finally pulls away the bath towel. Before the camera fades out, we are treated to a good, long vis-a-vis with Alcon's rear end.
In general, Nilsson uses his camera with all the pointless facility one might expect from such a veteran of the international festival circuit. If two lovers lie on the ground, he inverts the camera and shoots the treetops. A self-conscious device like this does not reinforce the narrative; it distracts the viewer and makes him think primarily of the cameraman, not the lovers gazing up at the sky. At any rate, it is the worst kind of visual euphemism.
For some years now Leopoldo Torre Nilsson has traveled to Venice and Cannes, rubbed shoulders with the film elite and seen their most experimental products. How Henry James would have loved to see those subtle Europeans seduce this naive ambassador from the New World into aping their shallowest tricks. Summer-skin is an end of innocence indeed.