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    Forbidden Love Is Explored in The Hottest Summer

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    The Hottest Summer, now available on Prime, is an enchanting Italian romcom directed and cowritten 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.

    Pilati treats this potentially charged situation with more charm than irreverence. He captures the simmering heat between Lucia, who has a boyfriend, and Nicola, who is preparing to be ordained into the priesthood.

    Saurino is utterly irresistible in the lead role and his relaxed, engaging performance helps make The Hottest Summer so appealing. In separate interviews, Pilati and Saurino spoke with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about their new film, a gender reverse version of The Sound of Music.

    Gary M. Kramer: 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?

    Gianmarco Saurino: I loved Nicola. He’s a beautiful character. The most fascinating thing is the dualism of him being caught between loving God and loving a woman. It was important that you cannot have sex when you are a priest—not because someone said that you can’t, but because you are in love with God. That was my focus. This is the most important thing for him. He is wrong, and full of doubts, and he doesn’t know what the right choice is. This happens to everyone, many times, throughout our lives. That’s what makes this character human—you can see yourself in his story.

    Matteo Pilati: 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.

    Gary M. Kramer: Matteo, 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.

    Matteo Pilati: There are strong homosexual undertones in Lucia and her friend Valentina’s (Alice Angelica) 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.

    Gary M. Kramer: Nicola is an almost perfect man. He can fix pipes, he saves animals from a fire, and even gets more folks to attend church. Can you talk about his flaws and sins? It was fun to see that Nicola is not holier than thou.

    Matteo Pilati: He has flaws. He is tempted by the compromise that Don Carlo (Nino Frassica) tells him, “Don’t think about your own soul; think about all the souls you can save and all the good you can do through the church.” The fatal flaw for Nicola is that he doesn’t believe in himself enough. He needs an institution like the church to give him a complete identity. He thinks [that] without the church, he has no place in the world. But maybe it’s not his path?

    Gianmarco Saurino: I think he doesn’t know he will be a sinner. He is just himself, in the moment. He loves the community and wants to help the community. That is what his mother taught him, which is why he is the way that he is. That’s why he is relaxed. And that is how I wanted to play him. When you want to help people, you don’t have to prove anything.

    Gary M. Kramer: Is his altruism overcompensating for his desires?

    Gianmarco Saurino: We see him in the first part of the movie, and he doesn’t know what is going to happen [that he will fall in love]. He has had sex and felt love before he decided to be a priest, but now he is sure about being a priest. What happens next is something that he doesn’t expect. It’s not a way to cover his desire for Lucia. He is both a good person and a good priest, but at the same time, he has a desire for a woman—even though the church says he cannot. But we are not black and white.

    Gary M. Kramer: Gianmarco, I get the sense you are a reluctant heartthrob. Do you enjoy this romantic comedy sex symbol role you’ve been cast in by Matteo? You seem to be his muse.

    Gianmarco Saurino: I don’t want to be recognized as a sex symbol. That was why I chose to make this film, because I’ve never done a romcom. I am a romantic, but I’ve never really watched many romantic movies. This character is not a sex symbol. He has a soul. You can’t play a sex symbol. That is something people see in you. How do you play a sex symbol—by running on a beach? But I loved his soul. That’s more interesting to me.

    Gary M. Kramer: Matteo, you certainly objectify Gianmarco, with shots of Nicola running shirtless on the beach. Do you deliberately play to the gay viewers?

    Matteo Pilati: 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 he 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. If you see nudity in the film is does not mean you are objectifying the character. That was 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 Spears’ music video for “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know.”

    © 2023 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer

    Published on July 17, 2023