Summer film 4: Avanti (1972), Billy Wilder

Like with Summertime, the plot is fairly straightforward; Wendell Armbruster Jr. (Jack Lemmon, always fabulous), a successful businessman travels to the island of Ischia to make arrangements for the return of his father’s body. But he discovers that his father died alongside his long-term mistress whose daughter, Pamela Piggott (beautiful Juliet Mills in probably her finest role) is also making the journey there.

Unlike the frantic pace of Some Like It Hot, this is a romantic comedy where everything unfolds at a leisurely pace. The scenery is absolutely stunning, there’s a musical score that you’ll be humming for days afterwards and a terrific cast. Lemmon and Mills are wonderful together as two older people from completely different backgrounds who find themselves becoming more like their parents the longer they stay on the island. My favourite though is Clive Revill as the hotel manager, a performance so funny and beautifully nuanced that you can scarcely believe he’s not actually Italian. There are many very funny scenes, often with black humour, as well as some poignant ones such as the scene in the morgue which is beautifully lit and also very sensitively played by Juliet Mills. For me, this is yet more proof of Billy Wilder’s greatness – the fact that he could direct some of the funniest films every yet also tackle darker themes, sometimes doing both in the same film.  This movie is 140 minutes but it goes by much too quickly. By the end, you really feel you’ve travelled to Ischia yourself and there’s a bittersweet lump in your throat knowing that we can’t come back again next year with Wendell and Pamela.


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