#10 in my ranking of David Lean’s films.
David Lean’s last small movie is a love letter to Venice, a city that Lean grew to adore as he scouted and filmed in the city. That loving touch helps carry the film through its regular moments of travelogue while also finding a way to connect the city with the main character’s need for something new. It’s not the most original use of “a place is magic” formula, but it’s still a charming example with a pair of strong performances from Katherine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi.
Hepburn plays Jane Hudson, a little woman from the little town of Akron, Ohio on her whirlwind trip through Europe alone. She’s hit London and Paris (as shown in a rather wonderful credits sequence through a series of oil paintings) and is off to Venice, opening with her on the train heading straight into the heart of the city. Her isolation is sold instantly as she gets the man she doesn’t know sharing her cabin to hold up her travel book for a picture, having no one else to help her. That extends to when she gets to the pension and she is obviously desperate to latch onto anyone for company. The proprietor of the pension, a nice Italian woman, leaves for dinner with a man. The other guests are all Americans and lead their own lives or tourist activities (very closely to their travel agent’s instructions), and Jane seems lost in a wonderful city.
She meets by chance the owner, Renato, of a small shop in the city, buying a red glass goblet from the 18th century from him, and instantly feeling an attraction. However, she’s not really prepared for any sort of real contact, preferring to simply view Venice from afar rather than in any sort of intimate terms, and scurries away timidly with her goblet. They meet again later when he shows up at her pension, eager to kindle a relationship with her, finding her attractive. This timid and halting relationship that forms is really the crux of the film, and it’s sweet in its own way.
Like the season in the movie’s title, the relationship has an endpoint. As with Lean’s previous film, Brief Encounter, there’s an emphasis on emotions being temporal. Jane is a woman from a little town, she doesn’t fit in Venice no matter how much she loves it. Renato loves her, but she doesn’t share the same worldview, especially around marriage. Their passion is genuine, but they don’t actually fit together very well. Jane seems to sense it, that as much as she loves Venice she doesn’t fit in, so she makes the decision to leave. Renato doesn’t understand. He’s of the moment, and he’s happy in this moment, why would she want to end it? The final shot is of Jane leaning out of the window of the train waving goodbye to Renato, but as the train continues to move and Renato falls out of sight, she continues to wave to Venice itself. It’s a rather wonderful image to end the film on.
As a whole, it’s a nice travelogue with a nice little romance with nice little thoughts about how temporary emotions can be. It’s not grand art, but it’s an enjoyable look at Venice and love. It’s interesting that this is Lean’s last small film before he went on to paint larger, grander pictures in movies like Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia.