Original running time: 110 minutes
Based on the novel of the same name by Pier Antonio Quarantotti Gambini
Produced by Silvio Clementelli for Jolly Film (Rome) and Les Films Agiman (Paris)
Distributed by Unidis
Director: Florestano Vancini
Story: Pier Antonio Quarantotti Gambini
Screenplay: Marcello Fondato, Elio Bartolini, Florestano Vancini
Cinematogrpahy: Roberto Gerardi
Music: Carlo Rustichelli
Editor: Roberto Cinquini
Art director: Flavio Mogherini
Cast: Catherine Spaak (Sergia), Fabrizio Capucci (Mark), Jacques Perrin (Freddy), Gabriele Ferzetti (Guido), Halina Zalewska (Luli, Sergia’s sister), Marcella Rovena, Daniele Vargas (Luli’s boyfriend)
La calda vita was Florestano Vancini’s third film, following hot on the heels of La lunga notte del ’43 (60) and La banda casaroli (62), both of which had been critical and moderate commercial successes. Based on a novel of the same name by P.A. Quarantotti Gambini, the film was produced by the prolific Silvio Clementelli for Jolly Film, a company distinguished by their erratic choice in projects; they backed Toto comedies, peplums, spaghetti westerns and, after scoring a huge success with A Fistful of Dollars, a range of cools sixties crime films. Most of their films were broadly formulaic which, seeing as La calda vita doesn’t fall easily into any particular generic category, makes it something of an exception.
A pair of randy adolescents, Mark (Fabrizio Capucci) and Freddy (Jacques Perrin), invite a beautiful young friend of theirs, Sergia (Catherine Spaak), to stay at their parent’s island lodge for the weekend, with the unsurprising intention of getting into her pants. The fact that it isn’t actually their parent’s lodge – they’ve just broken into it in order to impress her – doesn’t spoil their fun, and they’re soon sunbathing, tombstoning, fishing and generally larking about. Sergia, though, is nobody’s fool and, despite having feelings for Freddy, manages to keep her virtue intact.
With the relationship between the immature Mark and the others becoming increasingly fractious, things only become more complicated with the appearance of Guido (Gabriele Ferzetti), the real owner of the lodge. Guido’s an amiable character, a ship’s bursar who’s had his fair share of partying, and he treats his ‘guests’ with utmost civility. In fact, he’s such a charismatic chap that Sergia falls for and promptly sleeps with him, which only serves to escalate the tension that has developed between the characters.
I guess the best way to describe La calda vita is as a kind of early youth picture, with the teenage characters – who spend a lot of their time lounging around and talking about life, the universe and everything – coming face to face with a more adult, more complicated world. A change that is reflected by the narrative structure, which becomes increasingly dark and more melodramatic as the plot develops. In a way, then, as well as a neat partner piece to other films of the time with similar themes – Damiano Damiani’s Arturo’s Island (62) springs to mind – it’s also a more serious counterpoint to the musicarelli that had been popular a few years before; it features more realistic, more complex adolescent characters, but they still undergo a similar maturation (albeit a maturation into a more ambiguous, less certain adulthood).
Quite what Vancini’s attitude towards his young characters may be is hard to gauge. They’re sympathetically drawn, despite their failings, but they’re far from innocent. Although the film is preoccupied with the strained generational relationship partially caused by the burgeoning youth movement, he also refuses to take the easy option of portraying his adult characters in a negative fashion. Guido, in particular, is a very likeable fellow, even though he (possibly) uses his own worldliness to take advantage of the situation.
Whatever the case, it all looks immaculate, with extremely stylish technicolor cinematography from Roberto Gerardi (who had, in fact, shot Arturo’s Island). With its cool costumes, good-looking cast and beautiful location (Villasimius in Sardinia, an understandably popular tourist spot), it’s never less than an easy watch, but… I’m not all that convinced it adds up to as much as it perhaps thinks it does, and it’s awfully slow and overwrought at times. It’s a good film, no doubt, but, like the characters, it drifts.
Curiously, a lot of the people involved with this had other connections to films set in Sardinia. Co-writer Marcello Fondato later directed I protagonisti (68), a Sardinian set crime film, and Clementelli would produce Gianfranco Mingozzi’s excellent Sardinia Kindnapped (69). Clementelli was also the person who launched Catherine Spaak’s career: her big break came with Alberto Lattuada’s I dolci inganni (60), which he produced, and they’d go on to make ten films together. Spaak, who was just 19 when this was made, is absolutely gorgeous here, even when dressed in a scraggly old jumpsuit, and a pretty mean actress to boot. Gabriele Ferzetti is excellent too, proving he could play likeable, easygoing characters as well as his more usual, formal roles.
Apparently the original Italian release of this was 110 minutes long. The version I saw, which looks to be a splice of the Italian DVD and English audio sourced from a US release, lasted 100 minutes, although it reverts to Italian audio for many of the scenes between Spaak and Ferzetti, as well as a huge chunk of narrative after the characters leave the island.