LAST DAY OF SUMMER (1958) [Feature]

Poland (MIFF 1960 , Programme 3)
Director: Tadensz Konwicki

Out of waves breaking on a beach comes a woman from a swim. It is a desolate, empty seashore, backed by sand-dunes and reed-tufts. From the sky an echelon of jet-planes zooms down and away, followed by their sound. Suddenly the woman is aware of a man. He watches her. She had thought she was alone. She goes towards where she has left her clothes. He moves to follow. She shouts to him to go away. She throws a stone at him, and thinking she has scared him, she hides among the sand-dunes and lies in the sun. When she is woken she is encircled by a shallow wall of sand decorated with shells and flowers. A few yards away sits the man - still watching.

So begins this extraordinary film of a relationship between two people, two strangers, each scarred by the wounds of war - a relationship which is to last only a few hours. The stark simplicity of the locale - sea, sand and sky - invade the whole. From the incidents, many of them trivial, which follow - moments of tenderness, remorse, playfulness and passion - two facts become clear, perhaps only half clear. At the outbreak of the war, this woman was in love with a man who escaped from Poland to fly with the R.A.F. She has never known what became of him, but the memory of their love still lives in her - an emptiness invoking an utter loss of faith in living. She herself suffered agony under the Nazis; you can see it in her eyes. This is the last day of her holiday, her last swim before leaving that night for the city. Unknown to her, it transpires, each day the man has watched her bathe, too frightened to speak to her until now. He has made this beach his home, in a kind of dug-out. He lives in a half-world of the present and the past, a life of complete loneliness, suffering at moments from war-shock, sometimes reliving his battle experiences. Without any reason for life, he avoids all human contact until he speaks to this woman.

The Last Day of Summer was awarded the Grand Prix at the Venice Documentary and Short Film Festival, and has since been the subject of much controversy. It has been called "most moving, most compassionate, most humanly understanding film" and it has also been called "depressive and defeatist". Paul Botha, one of the Venice judges, says " . . . an intensely moving, completely realist, almost intolerably poignant series of situations and moods that germinate from one another as in life, and in so doing its creators bring into play all the dynamic attributes of the film medium. With music which is haunting and used sparingly, with subtle dependence on natural sound, with speech uttered only when essential and with a complete veracity to everyday use, with photography without artifice, this is a whole film. It has the essential unity, the completeness, of a work of art."

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