From the humid glaze of ‘Do The Right Thing’ to the sexual panic of ‘Y Tu Mamá También,’ Document offers a list of films that best embody the season’s spirit
There’s something about summer that evokes a particularly extreme sense of nostalgia. Cinema is a portal to an imaginary world through which the season is always within reach—even on the coldest and darkest of winter evenings.
Summer means school is suspended and travel is par for the course; there are no rules. Its visual language reflects this—at its best, magically defying the conventions we’re used to as viewers. Summer films can ellipse a day, on-screen romances can defy boundaries, and a sense of melancholia often pervades.
Few films successfully capture the intensity of feelings, colored by the warm light of summer months. As fall approaches, Document provides a list of some that satisfy.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
I first discovered Dazed and Confused over the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. There’s nothing more of-the-season than an existentially groovy coming-of-age film, spanning the course of the last day of high school, where everything goes wrong, but also so, so right.
Do The Right Thing (1989)
This film perfectly captures the essence of summer in Brooklyn, particularly those sweltering days when you’ll do anything to beat the heat. Taking place on the literal hottest day of the year, Do The Right Thing’s visceral, incessant heat gels the camera with a glistening tint. Is it humidity? A drop of sweat?
La Piscine (1969)
It’s no coincidence that La Piscine has seen a resurgence in the summers since quarantine. It is proof that tension rises with the temperature. The burn is slow—even lazy at times. Yet an undercurrent of infidelity persists between the steamy couple this film centers, and the temporality of their relationship—an allegory for the tenuousness of it all—reminds us that summer is fleeting.
A Swedish Love Story (1970)
This movie is an embodiment of the young summer love we all wish we had—when a crush is the only thing that matters in the world. The scene where Annika screams after Pär as he rides away on his motorcycle following a party which they spend exchanging shy glances but no words smolders with teenage angst. They are beautifully oblivious to the drama and disapproval of the adults around them. That’s what summer love is all about, right?
“It is proof that tension rises with the temperature.”
Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
During a scenic summer road trip from Mexico City to a paradisiacal beach town called ‘Mouth of Heaven,’ the protagonists’ adolescent summer of sexual panic in this film runs parallel to the socio-political limbo of postcolonial Mexico at the time. After all, summer is a state of flux.
Le Rayon Vert (1986)
If summer films are a genre, Rohmer is an auteur. In this one, a recently single woman spends her summer in search of what she thinks is love. Despite idyllic getaways to the countryside and the seaside, she is constantly confronted by couples. Her inescapable loneliness makes her almost insufferable. Yet Rohmer doesn’t just validate the melancholic undertones that go along with the season—he creates an aesthetic around them. It is a perfect solo summer film.
Morning of the Earth (1972)
This film is pure psychedelic surf bliss. Inspired by the work of Jonas Mekas, surfer-director Albert Falzon takes a color-saturated, avant-garde lens to warm swells and lush landscapes, and lays it over a sweet ‘70s soundtrack. The result is a state of unadulterated fun, eternal summer, oneness with nature. Even if you don’t like the ocean, it’s a beautiful trip.
Beaches of Agnes (2008)
“If we opened people up, we’d find landscapes. If we opened me up, we’d find beaches.” Agnes Varda arranges mirrors on a beach as waves crash and parachutes fly, refracting and reflecting the scene—which includes herself and her loved ones. Varda nostalgically reminds us of the summer vacations that shaped us growing up, while reflexively and retrospectively memorializing film as the medium that shaped her.