Summer in the City

Hot town, summer in the city

Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty

Been down, isn’t it a pity

Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city
— The Lovin' Spoonful

Hot pavements. Frayed tempers. Lingering exhaust fumes. Frazzled commuters. The summer season should be welcomed after a cold winter and wet spring. But in a metropolis where patience is often in short supply, it can also increase people’s temperatures. The opening verse of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s 1966 hit ‘Summer in the City’ says it all. The song was the inspiration for Wim Wenders’ 1970 feature debut – about a man aimlessly wandering the streets of Berlin. And it’s a mood that can be found in the latest Curzon12 selection. 

Another filmmaker who charts life in the overheated city is Gianni Di Gregorio. A screenwriter on the crime epic Gomorrah (2008), he toned down the intensity of Italian daily life for his directorial debut Mid-August Lunch. It’s a portrait of a fiftysomething Roman – played by Di Gregorio – who finds himself looking after a group of octogenarian women, including his mother, over an August bank holiday weekend. What should be an easy task is made increasingly frustrating by the women’s unwillingness to behave. Chaos and the threat of one man’s total undoing has rarely been so enjoyable.

Mid-August Lunch  (2008)

Mid-August Lunch (2008)

The loss of rationality, or one’s grasp on reality, afflicts Ethan Hawke’s character in The Woman in the Fifth. It’s directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, the filmmaker behind Ida (2013) and the forthcoming Cold War. (All three films also feature the compelling presence of Joanna Kulig.) Set in Paris, across a number of seasons – and featuring a summer party on a rooftop that looks over the French capital’s skyline – the film is an intriguing psychological drama in which a man’s deteriorating memory is unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Kristin Scott Thomas also stars.

The Woman in the Fifth  (2011)

The Woman in the Fifth (2011)

Memory also plays a significant role in the engrossing Lilting (2014). The feature debut of Hong Khao, it stars Ben Wishaw as a man whose partner has recently passed away and who attempts to come to terms with the memories that permeate every object and room in the deceased’s home. Moreover, he has to deal with his lover’s mother, whose knowledge of her son’s life is vague at best. She’s played by Cheng Pei-pei, one of the stars of Hong Kong martial arts cinema of the 1960s and 1970s (her most celebrated work was with the master martial arts filmmaker King Hu) and the main villain in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). It’s a film of subtle nuances and if the city takes a backseat role, it remains the tapestry upon which two people built their lives.

Lilting  (2014)

Lilting (2014)

The films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne bring the real city – a world recognisable to us all – urgently to life in their work. None more so than The Kid with a Bike (2011). A moving portrait of a burgeoning relationship between a young boy who has been neglected by his father and a hairdresser who takes him under her wing, the Dardennes skilfully weave these characters’ lives into the world around them. They are helped in no small part by the performances of newcomer Thomas Doret and Cécile de France. 

The Kid with a Bike  (2014)

The Kid with a Bike (2014)

Doret’s character might be highly strung, but his levels of energy pale when compared with the titular hero of Zazie dans le Métro (1960), rounding off this Curzon12 selection. Louis Malle’s madcap adaptation of Raymond Queneau’s beloved novel is an explosion of colour across the Paris landscape, which young Zazie (Catherine Demongeot) and her uncle Gabriel (Philippe Noiret) use like a vast, ever surprising playground. It’s a perfect time cylinder of early 1960s Parisian life and more than a little kooky – perhaps made more so by the way city people behave in the heat.

Zazie dans le Métro  (1960)

Zazie dans le Métro (1960)

Summer in the City, the new collection from Curzon12 is available to watch now on Curzon Home Cinema. Curzon members can watch all the films in the collection for free as part of their membership.