Watch IN BED: Summers that changed everything

Words by Shana Chandra

We’ve all had a summer that has changed our lives. A summer when who we were heading into those heady days, is so different to the person we are in its sunlit wake, it’s as if all that heat has transmuted the waters within us, creating different beings. We shed skins in the heat. We lavish ourselves in the heat. We mingle in the heat. And we love more furiously in the heat. And because we’ve all had a winter where we’ve hibernated and bunkered down more than usual, this time the sun warming our backs feels hotter than ever. With sun there is a defrosting, a relaxing of the rigid, and right now, it feels like we need that more than ever before. A summer that changes our lives. So, to embrace this summer we won’t forget, we take a look at the summers on our screens that were just as unforgettable to us, as they were to the characters who lived them.

Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee (1989)

Do the Right Thing, tells of one summer day in New York City in 1989, a cusp of a new decade, in a place where all the heat has nowhere to go but rebound off buildings, and get hotter. Lee’s camera rebounds too, following and spinning off the characters living in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, mimicking the claustrophobia its inhabitants feel, stuck in the city over the summer. Sampling conversations from Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, the streets, the stoops, and the studio of We Love Radio where DJ Senor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson) spins his records, we get to know the neighbourhood and it’s African-American, Italian and Puerto-Rican inhabitants, and all the simmering racial tensions, friendship and love that bind them together.

Lee’s use of the heat is a clever motif; each character comments on it time and time again, showing us that at the end of the day, no matter who we are and where we come from, we all feel it. But the themes Do the Right Thing explores incredulously clang in our ears even louder now. So, although the Jordan High tops, fade cuts and ghetto blasters are so fun to witness as vintage porn, the aggression that escalates along racial lines as the movie reaches its galvanising finale, are the very same tensions which are cataclysmically erupting on America’s streets in real life thirty years later, and makes viewing the film entirely sobering. And because of this, the anger that each character holds, is imbibed by the viewer, making this film mandatory viewing for this year’s summer especially.

My Summer of Love, Pawel Pawlikowski (2004)

A summer trapped in the Yorkshire Dales of England’s North may not be ideal for two restless teenagers struggling with family life in the early 2000’s, but local, pub-dwelling Mona (Natalie Press) and boarding-school bred Tamsin (Emily Blunt) turn it into a sun drenched summer of pranks after their fateful meeting, when Tamsin Lady Godiva-esque on a white horse, worries that Mona lying starfish in a field has come off her engine-less Honda bike. In between their sessions of red wine and cigarettes in the tennis court of Tamsin’s parents’ mansion and dips in the lakes of the local forest, their hijinks turn to revenge on the hypocritical adults around them; they throw a garden gnome into Tamsin’s father’s car window during his lunchtime rendezvous with his secretary, and confront the wife of Ricky, the man who breaks up with Mona right after he sleeps with her.

Despite their different social backgrounds, the two comfort each other with the loss of their family members both living and dead; Mona’s mother from cancer, her brother’s sudden turn as a born-again Christian, and Tasmin’s sister from anorexia, and the neglect from both her parents. You can see why they are drawn to each other; Tamsin’s sophistication and knowledge entices Mona, and Mona’s charm and mischievousness work on Tamsin too. So much so, that as their love affair progresses, the two begin to dress like each other, Mona in Tamsin’s floating slip dresses, Tamsin in Mona-style singlet and velour hoodie. But as the summer begins to fade, their musings on sex, death and religion take a darker turn, until the twist at the end of the film, makes you flashback the summer from an entirely different perspective.

Summer with Monika, Ingmar Bergman (1953)

The summer Ingmar Bergman depicts in Summer with Monika, is the first summer that young lovers, Harry (Lars Ekborg) and Monika (Harriet Andersson) spend together, stealing Harry’s father’s boat to spend it seaside and sensual on a Swedish archipelago after they first meet. Fleeing the oppressive world of the adults surrounding them in Stockholm; they leave their menial jobs; the vegetable stockroom where Monika is continually sexually harassed, and the porcelain stockroom where Harry is constantly blamed for breakages. But they also flee their claustrophobic families too; Harry’s silent father, still mourning the death of his wife and Monika’s drunk and abusive one. The rising tensions within each of their lives finally reaches breaking point, poignantly showed by a close up of Harry, who purposefully tipps a glass over in the stockroom, right before he leaves for good.

As the two begin to leave Stockholm by boat for the islands, Bergman’s shots expand from the confined close ups that have characterised the city and its people, to long shots of the ocean’s waves, sculptural rocks and grassy fields, perfectly voluptuous landscapes to showcase the two lovers kissing, smoking and frolicking within them. But Bergman’s summer isn’t completely serene; rolling clouds and fierce waves reveal its intensity and when the lovers are forced to return to the city, Monika’s sensuality awakened by the summer, reveals it’s force too.

Y tu mama tambien, Alfonzo Cuarón (2001)

Most summer movies require the journey motif of a road trip, and most summers are incomplete without one. Y Tu mama Tambien, sets its up perfectly; two friends, Julio and Tenoch whose girlfriends are away in Italy for the summer, try to pick up Tenoch’s cousin’s wife, the Spanish Luisa, at a wedding, and to have them stave off the ennui of being left behind in Mexico City, they offer to take Luisa to a mythical beach called ‘Heaven’s Mouth.’ When Luisa leaves the wedding with her husband, neither expect her to ring a couple of days later to take them up on their offer, which they then scramble to put into place.

As the road trip begins, the boy’s machismo vies for Luisa’s sensualness, and most of the talk and action revolves around sex. But in the background are Luisa’s tears, swelling from her having just left her cheating husband, and an ominous doctor’s visit, where in the waiting room, we witness her take a magazine quiz, which rates her as, ‘a woman afraid to claim her freedom.’

At first the movie appears to be a musing on repressed desires and how the realisation of death can expedite them into life. But alongside Luisa’s tears, the political situation of Mexico looms in the background of Cuaron’s lens. From Mexico City to the beaches, scenes of the threesome’s bawdy talk is intercepted with protests, people dying on the streets and the Indigenous peoples’ struggling lives, which makes you to look at the movies’ political motives more closely. And when the politician’s son Tenoch and the secretary’s son Julio’s unrepressed desires meet, you discover how Cuaron is using his characters as an allegory of the two disparate socio-economic groups that make up his county, showing us just how personal the political is.

Call Me by Your Name, Luca Guadignino (2017)

In recent times, it is hard to imagine a movie become so cult, that it has changed the way we look at an emoji forever. But for those who have seen it, the peach emoji will always be linked to the halcyon summer days of an Italian summer, in which Call me by your Name is set, and where the older graduate-student assistant, Oliver, and his professor’s son, Elio fall in love. In the grounds of Elio’s parents’ Italian villa, full of apricot and peach orchards, they bike ride to brasseries, midnight swim in lakes, and disco to the synth pop sounds of the European eighties, while longingly crushing and simultaneously denying their sexual fevers. 

Because what Guadignino does so well is create that exacting atmosphere of a nascent crush; balancing between desire and its stagnation so accurately that half the time you are longing for that person, and the other half you’re miserable, in determining its reciprocity. It’s about the silent games you play when you pick up on a signal that confirms your feelings, and the ones you play when they are denied; when a prolonged slap on the back, a dance with another, or a runaway comment means so much more than it does. But here, it is made all the more intense by the lack of openness towards homosexuality, the milieu of the time, forcing these desires to be kept secret. What stays with you most however is the summer of Elio and Oliver’s love, which because of this secrecy, seeps into every action; it bursts from flowing egg yolks that Oliver taps with his spoon each morning, to the sweet apricot juice he drinks, that speaks of the moment when everything is ripe and must be tasted. Until you know, just like us, Elio will never bite into a peach without thinking of Oliver again.