David Lean has always been an exemplar of a certain cinema-of-quality within the English-speaking firmament (big overstuffed period pieces, later taken up by Merchant & Ivory), so I didn’t expect much from this tourist’s point-of-view story of romance in Venice. It is indeed filled with picture postcard views as might befit the American tourist on holiday — albeit ones shot with an exemplary eye by cinematographer Jack Hildyard, packed with saturated colours and beautiful light — but there’s a surprising depth of pathos to the characters. Katharine Hepburn’s Ohio-born school secretary Jane, overseas for the first time, is shot through with an indefinable sadness, expressed through her buttoned-up (if nevertheless fashionable) dress sense and cheerful embrace of the pleasures of a solitary drink. Her repression is never explained precisely, but it’s suggested during her halting romance with Venice native Renato (Rossano Brazzi) that this is her first time in love. It’s a bittersweet story which doesn’t condescend to its two lead characters, though there’s plenty of caricature to be found amongst the supporting roles. Chiefly though, it’s Hepburn’s subtle performance and the Venice scenery which do much of the work here.
Criterion Extras: More than most releases, this one really is bare bones, having only a trailer on it. The focus of course is in the film transfer, which is excellent.
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director David Lean; Writers H. E. Bates and Lean (based on the play The Time of the Cuckoo by Arthur Laurents); Cinematographer Jack Hildyard; Starring Katharine Hepburn, Rossano Brazzi; Length 100 minutes.
Seen at home (DVD), London, Sunday 15 February 2015.