Directed by: Shira Haimovici
Written by: Shira Haimovici
Starring: Netta Roe, Mandi Bar
Netta Roe as Gal in Summer Shade
The sensuality of a rural idyll courses through Shira Haimovici’s Summer Shade, creating an intoxicating aesthetic for audiences to get absorbed in. An Israeli tale of one girl’s loss of innocence and test of trust, this short film is successful primarily through the force of its stunning visuals and beguiling tone.
The plot of Summer Shade (which premieres at the 2020 BFI London Film Festival) unfolds languidly, as befitting its seasonal setting. Young teenager Gal and her slightly older friends are lapping up the freedom of summer in their pastoral retreat, going to a nearby pool in the woods to refresh themselves and soak up the sun. A divide in interests soon develops between Gal and the older girls – now caught up in a world of drinking, boys and card-playing – motivating her to cut loose for her own summer fun at the pool. Gal’s solo tranquillity is soon cut short, however, by a group of Hasidic teenage boys, leading to a traumatic awakening to the threat of others.
Lead actress Netta Roe capably displays Gal’s journey from stubbornly carefree at the beginning, to emotionally shaken and insecure following the film’s distressing central sequence. All in all, she gives the right levels of innocence and wildness to her character. Beyond her performance, the Hasidic boys start off as a homogenous group, yet key differences emerge in their reactions to Gal’s presence at the pool, meaning their performances and characterisations are thankfully not overly one-dimensional or reductive.
The key presence in this short film, though, is the rural setting in its summer glory, which engulfs the actors and immerses the viewer in its heady atmosphere. The effect of this environment on the film’s texture is maximised by writer-director Haimovici. She is intent on absorbing the natural world within the frame, often catching drops of pool-water or flares of sunlight on the camera lens. We also get a strong sense of the teeming wildlife: crickets hum around the characters as they walk through the landscape’s footpaths, there are close-ups of bugs, and Gal even pauses at one moment to tenderly stroke a passing tortoise. As the girls luxuriate in the water spring, so too does the film slow down (with an appealing ambient score) and linger in those blissful experiences.
That peaceful basking is, however, very much the calm before the storm. The central rude awakening is nuanced and multi-faceted: it is a coming-of-age to the struggles of sharing public spaces, the threat of male sexuality and the potential toxicity of masculine fraternities. Gal’s distress is also neatly contrasted with her elders’ entry into sexual relations and the tourist wedding taking place in her back-garden. Importantly, though, Gal’s broken faith is in turn balanced with a glimmer of hope that others can be trusted, culminating in a perfect final shot that represents her young soul in flux.
Summer Shade captures the titular season like few other films in recent memory, to create a beautiful and atmospheric coming-of-age tale.