“The Hottest Summer,” now available on Prime, is an enchanting Italian romcom directed and co-written by out gay filmmaker Matteo Pilati (“Mascarpone”). The film chronicles a tale of forbidden love as Nicola (Gianmarco Saurino), a handsome young deacon, unexpectedly falls in love with Lucia (Nicole Damiani), a young woman in a Sicilian village where he takes a position in the local parish.
At first, everyone is wary of Nicola, but he quickly wins folks over with his charisma, talents, and good looks. In fact, Lucia’s best friend Valentina (Alice Angelica) develops a crush on Nicola and urges Lucia to help her seduce him before he is ordained. However, Nicola finds himself attracted to Lucia instead, and he soon starts dating her. Complicating matters, Lucia has a boyfriend, Omar (Medhi Meskar) and is planning to move to Rome with him in the fall.
Pilati treats this potentially charged situation with more charm than irreverence. He captures the simmering heat between Lucia and Nicola when he gives her communion, as well as during a swoon-inducing romantic dinner on the beach (followed by some skinny-dipping). But Nicola does struggle with his temptation.
Saurino is utterly irresistible in the lead role and his relaxed, engaging performance helps make “The Hottest Summer” so appealing. Pilati spoke with Gay City News about his new film, which is a gender reverse version of “The Sound of Music.”
Like your previous feature, “Mascarpone,” “The Hottest Summer” is about a romance that develops between two characters who thought they loved someone else. Can you talk about this theme in your films?
While “Mascarpone” was about gay 30-year-olds in Rome, this time I’m dealing with teenagers with raging hormones in Sicily during a very hot summer. Teenage love is more passionate in a way, but it is also more volatile because the characters are more immature. It was interesting to delve into my old teenage memories. As for unexpected love, it comes whenever your guard is down, so it’s natural when you are thinking of something else you are not focused on finding love — and that’s the moment when love finds you.
The characters of Nicola especially, but also Lucia, live double lives; their relationship is on the down low — it’s closeted — which is something members of the gay community can understand. What can you say about how the couple struggles to be truthful about their forbidden love?
They both shouldn’t be involved with each other. Lucia has a boyfriend and plans to move with him to Rome. Nicola is going to be ordained at the end of the summer. Yes, they are in the closet, and gay people can relate to that aspect — it is a forbidden love. I think “The Hottest Summer” is as gay as a straight story can be in a way. I am a gay man, so it is natural that I have a sensitivity in how I approach stories no matter who the characters are. When Nicola sings the song from “The Sound of Music,” it’s a very gay moment. I never thought the producer would allow me to do that.
As a gay man, how do you approach making a “straight” film? There is a sensitivity here in some of the heartfelt exchanges, but you include a gay character who is accepted by his peers, and there is a queer history ascribed to a painting.
I describe reality as I see it. People said I did an amazing thing with diversity, but I didn’t think about it; I picked whomever I liked. There are strong homosexual undertones in Lucia and Valentina’s relationship, which is somehow explicit in the one part of the film. They can be seen as a couple. They sniff each other, fight like jealous lovers, and Valentina explicitly asks Lucia to deflower her at the beginning of the film. The undertone is there, and it is for the audience to pick it up or not. It is subtle, but it’s there. “The Hottest Summer” can be seen as a gay love story between Lucia and Valentina.
You certainly objectify Gianmarco, especially with sexy shots of Nicola running shirtless on the beach. Do you deliberately play to the gay viewers?
I try not to objectify the human body whether it’s female or male. Nicola is perceived by the other characters as sexy and attractive, and I could have played with it more if I wanted to. It would have been justified, but when he is running shirtless on the beach, it’s natural, not gratuitous. He has a very nice body and is a charming man, but I try not to objectify him. I’m very sensitive about that. You can charm the viewer with the story. When you see nudity in the film it does not mean I am objectifying the character. That was not my intention — the results may be different from what I was hoping for, but that’s part of the game. That running on the beach sequence was a homage to Britney Spear’s music video for “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know.”
What can you say about developing the tone and the approach given the church setting?
My goal was not to be irreverent. A trope of teenage romance film is that there must be some obstacles, and we often see films where the obstacle is sickness. This time, it comes from a decision one has made; my cowriters and I thought about a young priest falling in love. The way we talk about the Catholic church here is very respectful. We do not make fun of religion or the church, nor do we pass judgment on religion or spirituality. It is relatable whether you are Catholics or not.
Can you talk about playing into or away from the tropes of the romcom, such as the kissing in the rain scene. How do you pay homage to the genre but also wink at it?
That’s exactly what I was aiming for. This film has all the tropes of a teenage romantic comedy, and teenagers can see it for what it is, but a wider audience can find something interesting because it’s multilayered. It is a different film based on your perspective — gay, straight; teenage, adult. Teenagers who haven’t seen “The Sound of Music” might see Nicola is just playing a song on the guitar and feel enchanted by it, while adults can laugh at the scene because they recognize that I’m telling the story of “The Sound of Music” with a gender reverse. I played with camp, in the scene with the fire. Nicola is praying, and a drop of rain comes down. I wanted to film it like a superhero action film. Some folks may find it emotional; other people might burst into laughter and feel the campiness. It’s a matter of perspective. I’m glad you can see the tropes and can laugh at them. It is a way to celebrate the genre, but also identify its limitations and play with them.
“The Hottest Summer” | Directed by Matteo Pilati | Now available on Prime.