It's tourist season in the small Greek village of Lindos, off the coast of Rhodes, and the once-traditional town is becoming diseased with commercialism. An enterprising young man, Tselios, is in the process of closing the shop that bears his late father's name and reopening it as a tourist trap called Lord Byron, much to the consternation of his mother,...read more
It's tourist season in the small Greek village of Lindos, off the coast of Rhodes, and the once-traditional town is becoming diseased with commercialism. An enterprising young man, Tselios, is in the process of closing the shop that bears his late father's name and reopening it as a
tourist trap called Lord Byron, much to the consternation of his mother, Papas. Besides selling T-shirts imprinted with Lord Byron's face, he manufactures and sells modern, silver-studded single-breasted bikinis. He has also commissioned a modern artist, Fox, to create a sculpture for the village
square dedicated to the "unknown tourist." Fox's estranged wife, Bisset, a celebrated photographer, also lives in the village with their teenage daughter. She, however, is in dire financial straits because of the failure of her latest book, The Light of Greece, and fears she will have to sell her
house. Shaw, a British art expert and a true antique of a man who makes an annual visit to Lindos to see his dear friends Bisset (for whom he openly declares his love) and Baker, suggests that Bisset marry him so that he can support her with his pension. She, however, still loves Fox and plans to
sell an ancient Grecian urn given to her by Shaw. When an art dealer offers her $300,000, her financial woes appear to be over. Meanwhile, a daft young British couple--Branagh and Manville--arrive in the village. Branagh is a bottom-rung special agent on assignment for British intelligence who
keeps his work a secret from his wife. He becomes instantly infatuated with Bisset. Manville and Tselios are drawn to each other because Manville's name (Carol Lamb) is essentially the same as that of Byron's great love, Lady Caroline Lamb. Soon Manville discovers that Bisset and Shaw are selling
the urn, which as a national treausre they must smuggle out of the country. During an evening of excessive drinking and partying in which both locals and tourists participate, the drunken Manville accidentally breaks the urn. Branagh shoves the pieces under the furniture and rushes home. His guilt
is discovered, though, by Shaw, who has known all along that the urn was a fake. While Fox and Bisset try to reunite, settling both personal and artistic differences, Shaw informs Bisset that he is about to be arrested for his espionage work in WW II. Back in the town square, Tselios has unveiled
the "unknown tourist," a grotesque, blockheaded caricature with camera in hand. Driven into a Rambo-like rage, Papas rides into the square on a donkey and--sporting a gunbelt, rifle, and pistol--shoots the statue's head off. Shaw is then greeted by a British intelligence official who, instead of
arresting him, assigns him a new identity and home in the Soviet Union. Saddened by Shaw's departure, Bisset and Baker accompany him to his boat and wish him well, shouting opisthea--a Greek term which means "the future is behind you." As the boat speeds off, Shaw waves to the friends who stand on
the shore behind him.
A witty satire that takes a jab at tourism and commerce, HIGH SEASON--although constructed in a rather sprawling style--manages to be both comic and serious, not unlike the classic films of Preston Sturges. This is the first feature for Peploe (who won an Oscar for her 1981 short COUPLES AND
ROBBERS), and she directs in a loose style perfectly suited for her "on holiday" subject matter. As Diane Kurys did in her underrated 1987 film, A MAN IN LOVE, Peploe shows a promising talent for juggling a number of story lines and characters--a talent that seemed to have disappeared from
currency with the death of Jean Renoir. The strong point of HIGH SEASON is its casual structure, which may or may not have been wholly intentional. Characters seem to drift effortlessly from scene to scene, place to place, encounter to encounter. Everything interconnects in this small village in
which characters continuously run into one another, creating a familial atmosphere. In addition to the main characters, there is a group of a half-dozen pneumatic vacationers who bounce in and out of a number of scenes, dressed in single-breasted bikinis. There is also a loud, obnoxious fellow who
makes a habit of wandering into frame. Like the villagers, the movie audience knows nothing about these peripheral characters other than that they are typical, obnoxious tourists.
Peploe is concerned with more than loud tourists, however. Of deeper interest is the part that native Greeks play in the tourist trade, foregoing their own heritage to make money. It is this strained relationship between the commerce of tourism and the value of classicism that forms the conflict
between Bisset's and Fox's characters. While Fox represents all that is modern in art (receiving commissions for sculptures of gigantic cigarettes in equally gigantic ashtrays), Bisset represents the beauty of the past as she tries to recapture the power of the sunlight that hits the Aegean coast
(although it is worth remembering that she attempts to peddle a piece of Greek history, her fake urn, for cold cash). While Bisset accuses Fox of creating modern monstrosities, he attacks the falseness of her work: "That's not the `light of Greece'; that's the light of Kodak."
HIGH SEASON is a prime example of the sort of work that Fox and Bisset can do when given rich material. Bisset, in her first theatrical film since 1984's UNDER THE VOLCANO (her appearance in TV's "Napoleon and Josephine" is best forgotten), turns in one of her most praiseworthy performances, while
Fox continues a recent string of quality work (ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS; THE WHISTLE BLOWER). The rest of the cast also does a fine job, including Papas in the self-parodying role of the mourning Greek widow, Branagh and Manville as the flighty couple, and veteran stage actor Shaw performing
magnificently as the film's most sympathetic and complex character. It is Shaw who professes the philosophy that is at the heart of the film--opisthea, the respect one must have for history, for it is from the past that the future hails.
Although this is Peploe's first feature, she is a film veteran, having cowritten the scripts for Michelangelo Antonioni's ZABRISKIE POINT and husband Bernardo Bertolucci's LUNA. Here she collaborated with brother Mark (cowriter of THE PASSENGER and THE LAST EMPEROR) and enlisted the service of
brilliant cinematographer Menges (THE MISSION; SHY PEOPLE). Also lending a hand was investor Nicholson, a friend of the Peploes' since his appearance in Antonioni's THE PASSENGER. The Nicholson-Peploe connection in HIGH SEASON is pointed to in an in-joke when Shaw is given his new identity--David
Locke, Nicholson's character name in THE PASSENGER. (Nudity, sexual situations.)
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