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Photograph: Supplied/ACMISummer with Monika

Five films that capture the essence of summer

In need of something to watch? ACMI film curator Reece Goodwin has shared his top picks for films that capture the essence of summer

Saffron Swire
Written by
Saffron Swire
Contributor Reece Goodwin

The hot, sultry days of summer are back and what better way to cool off than in the shade of a cinema with a film classic? Luckily for you, ACMI film curator Reece Goodwin has saved us the trouble of picking and has revealed his top five films that capture the dreamy dog days of summer. 

Traverse the decades with film classics such as the 1976 thriller Picnic at Hanging Rock, the coming-of-age comedy-drama Puberty Blues, or spend the Summer with Monika on the Swedish archipelago. 

Continuing until February 14, ACMI’s film program Days of Summer allows you to travel from Tokyo to Brazil and see summer play out in all of its shades. Discover more here.

The top five films

Often credited as the beacon of the Australian New Wave, Peter Weir’s timeless classic is one that few people will ever forget. In true Australian Gothic fashion, the disorientating landscape of the Australian bush is beautiful and dangerous in equal measure, and in the summer sun, after a hearty picnic, it casts its menacing spell – or does it? Set on St Valentine’s Day in 1900, it’s one to put in your diary for February 14 as a tribute to the saint or a middle finger to the holiday.


Summer in Australia is difficult to prise apart from beach culture. However, far from the idyllic scene we often see on screen, Bruce Beresford’s 1981 film is particularly striking for its gritty vision of beach culture, and more broadly, adolescent life in the '70s. Based on Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette’s controversial 1979 novel, the film still manages to land its punches 40 years after its release.


Kleber Mendoça Filho’s 2016 film was the festival hit of 2016. A brilliant Sonia Braga stars as Clara, a middle-aged cancer survivor who digs her heels in against a property developer wanting to knock down the Aquarius apartment building she lives in. Eventually, they buy every apartment, but Clara refuses to sell. The David-and-Goliath storyline and Braga’s commanding performance are guaranteed to have audiences razzed up. 


Director Isao Takahata – one of the co-founders of Studio Ghibli – sadly passed away in 2018. His film output for the studio is renowned, and many credit him for building the studio's brand as producers of animated films with a sophisticated emotional complexity. Only Yesterday is no exception. Following 27-year-old Taeko as she heads off on a holiday, she begins to recall her childhood and adolescence. Only Yesterday is another beautifully nostalgic work and genuinely heartfelt. 


Credited as the film that put Ingmar Bergman on the map – and rightly so, it did in many English-speaking countries - Summer with Monika (1953) offers a vicarious journey sailing around the Stockholm archipelago. After meeting in a café, teenage lovers Monika (Harriet Andersson) and Harry (Lars Ekborg) decide to run away for the summer, spending their long Swedish days basking in the Nordic sun. However, when summer ends, they must return to reality. It’s good to know that if we can’t get away this summer, we can always sail away with Harry and Monika. 

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