Sunday, January 16, 2011

La Calda Vita (1963)

Catherine Spaak never looked more beautiful than she does in Florestano Vancini's 1963 film “La Calda Vita.” One of the major teen dramas of the nineteen-sixties, the plot involves a teenage girl who gets invited by her step-cousin and his friend to spend a weekend at the friend's family villa (actually a supposedly abandoned villa the guys want to host her in to impress her) on a nearby island. The film communicates the fun and day-to-day excitement of being a teenager in the midst of confusion, tragedy, and the inevitable progression into adulthood.

One of the unique qualities of "La Calda Vita" is how it's bookended with passages that have a distinctly stark visual contrast against the warm sunshine and blue sea of the island where the majority of the drama takes place. After a night of partying with her wild and loose sister, we cut to the early morning where Spaak is drinking a glass of milk on the patio of her shared apartment, looking into the distance at a cold, almost post-apocalyptic industrial landscape akin to the setting of a Michelangelo Antonioni film ("Red Desert" immediately comes to mind). For an "island picture," this was a completely unexpected but fantastic prelude to getting her to the main settling. In addition, the final ten minutes take place in the heart of the small Italian town the girl is from.

Roberto Gerardi's cinematography is beautiful, showcasing the island as a dream for the teenagers but also knowing how to depict it as vast and alienating. The two boys, played by Jacques Perrin and Fabrizio Capucci, carry a naive infatuation for the girl and act out their lust and romanticism in different ways, Capucci being the more emotional and sensitive but also taking more risks, Perrin having better instincts and an overall more Alpha exterior. Spaak seems to be able to see right through them, and a good deal about her character is expressed through the actress's spectacularly expressive features and physical nuance. The three swim, water ski, dance, sing, and generally enjoy each other's company and in between all of this hold conversations about their lives and their place in the world. Gabriele Ferzetti plays the villa's real owner, who befriends the teenagers and does what he can to hear out their youthful conflicts and problems. The score is by the great Carlo Rustichelli and Spaak sings the main theme over the end credits.

"La Calda Vita" was a modest hit in Italy and was picked up by an international distributor for release in America four years later (cut by fifteen minutes and dubbed into English, with Spaak providing her own voice) likely to coincide with the release of Spaak's first and only Hollywood film, "Hotel."


  1. Amazing screen captures on all of these films! Thanks for your efforts.

  2. Thanks for the splendid captions, but how can we get this film?

  3. A beautiful and even haunting movie, despite the fact that one of the four main actors is not at the height of the three others. Fabrizio Capucci (who was O.K. in 'Diciottenni al sole') is a young adult playing a teenager, a recipe for disaster, especially because his character is the most tormented among the three youngsters.

    But it doesn't matter, really it doesn't and Capucci remains tolerable. Perrin is excellent, Ferzetti exceptional as always, and of course Catherine Spaak is pitch-perfect in her last teenager role.

    'La calda vita' is a bitter and sad beach movie, with a constant ambiance of sensuality even if less explicit sexually than the novel. Please note that it takes place by the end of August : summer is almost over, Spaak's teenagehood is almost over, a certain Italy - where aailor with a modest salary can own a simple house on the coast of Sardinia - is almost over. Carlo Rustichelli has gradually built up the song's melody during the whole movie, so when comes the unforgettable finale at the airport, where ultra-sober Ferzetti only has this little gesture of the hand and Spaak, now a young adult because of what happened, passes by and the song starts with her so beautiful yet fragile voice, it really gets to me and pinches my heart everytime I watch it. C'est magnifique.