Home Video Hovel- Summer Holiday
While it is an unrewarding film, Summer Holiday earns some measure of goodwill for its restrained, honest depiction of the confusion and unease that can nearly destroy a marriage when one of the partners is at a turning point in their life. This Romanian drama employs a familiar fly-on-the-wall aesthetic—long takes with natural lighting, seemingly improvisatory performances, naturalistic dialogue suffused with minutia—to depict a, frankly, banal mid-life crisis suffered by a thirty-something man named Bogdan who is chafing at the constraints of adulthood. The film is well observed throughout and features some strong acting, but it’s ultimately a shallow affair that never manages to wring any real drama from this oft-told tale.
The scenes that do work involve the strained relationship between Bogdan and his wife, Smaranda (well played by Anamaria Marinca of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days). She is the best-written character in the film, a self-aware woman who is cognizant of the trap of becoming a stereotypical “nag” while trying to get her listless, dissatisfied husband to spend more time with his family, yet not unafraid to ask for what she wants nonetheless. It’s a nice depiction of the tricky position a smart woman can find herself in during a marriage, and, despite the movie obviously standing in judgment of Bogdan’s behavior, it never uses her character as a way to didactically declare him the bad guy. In a long and scarily accurate fight scene between the two of them (also the movie’s best scene), she’s as much at fault as he is for the way the long-held grievances start to spill out, and, after the tempers have cooled, her reflections on how her own problems caused what happened between them are the stuff good marriage partners are made of.
But the issues straining their relationship are pretty much by-the-book masculinity issues on Bogdan’s part. While on a vacation with their four-year-old son, they run into two of Bogdan’s old friends who he hasn’t seen or spoken to in years. She’s clearly uncomfortable with the presence of these rootless ne’re-do-wells, but nevertheless strives (unsuccessfully) to be accommodating to his desire to spend time with them instead of her and the kid for an evening. So, off he goes, under his wife’s passive-aggressive protests, for a night of fun pseudo-debauchery with his old pals. Of course, it’s really a way to reunite with his youthful self, to spend some quality time with the guy he used to be who was good at getting drunk, scoring with women, and, apparently, berating waitresses for bringing him cold soup.
To the film’s credit, it never overplays the eminently predictable events that unfold or attempts to heighten them beyond their due. Indeed, Bogdan’s night out is realistically pathetic. On the surface, it’s one of the more accurate depictions of a night out with friends you’ve outgrown that I can remember seeing. They spend an awful lot of time at a bowling alley, and the dance club they go to is striking in how un-movie-like it is. The flashing laser lights look chintzy, the people look unhappy, the walls of the place are bare and unattractive.
The film’s verisimilitude is its biggest problem, though. While Summer Holiday is never less than honest, it’s also not very interesting. The film leans on its natural style too much, allowing most every scene to go on well past its due as the characters yammer on and on. It seems to make the mistake of assuming that because something feels real, it is dramatically viable for most of its runtime. So, the pace is just a drone of one scene blending into the next without much of any shape to the film as a whole. Worse, it is profoundly lacking in any insight on Bogdan’s journey to make peace with his warring selves. The film’s biggest ideas about men slowly outgrowing their adolescent tendencies would not be out of place on a lackluster prime-time sitcom.
The disc itself is a perfunctory affair featuring an adequate picture, and its only special feature is a trailer presented letterboxed within a 4:3 frame. The trailer is worth a view as an example of an execrable piece of marketing hokum, attempting to sell this languid, quiet film as something of a raucous, party-time film.
At five AM, the morning after I wrote the first draft of this review, I slept through 6 phone calls from a Romanian phone number (I don’t know anyone in Romania, so this is weird). On the last attempt to reach me, the caller left a fascinating, but garbled message. All I could make out was something along the lines of, “wake up, motherfucker. I am Romania(n?).” Then some speaking in what sounded like another tongue, and, finally, a little bit of singing. This review has been softened somewhat from its original more scathing form to reflect my absolute terror of this coincidence(????). I have not heard from the mysterious Romanian since. I pray to God I never do.