This Mondello Beach Movie Will Transport You To Palermo

August 11, 2019
View of the waters from Mondello Beach, Palermo, Sicily (Credit: Pixabay)

A new documentary movie called, Happy Winter, transports viewers to Mondello Beach (Spiaggia di Mondello), one of the most popular beaches in Sicily, Italy.

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, just off the southernmost tip of the Italian boot. Because Sicilian summers tend to be long, hot, and dry, many residents of Palermo, the capital city of Sicily, escape the heat and stresses of urban life by retreating to Mondello Beach, a little more than 10 minutes away by car or taxi.

Beach culture in Italy

Italy is a country that is almost entirely surrounded by the sea, with some 5000 miles of coastline. So it’s not surprising that during the dog days of August, when most Italians that go on vacation, many of them head to the beach.

Mondello Beach before the crowds (Pixabay)

Mondello Beach before the crowds (Pixabay)

The term “Ferragosto” refers to the religious and national holiday in Italy, Assumption Day, that falls in August and celebrates the Catholic Feast of the Assumption of Mary. While most museums and cultural institutions remain open at that time, most non-tourist-related businesses close down so Italians can take their vacations.

The holiday extends well beyond August 15th alone, because depending on one’s employment, some Italians take off the long weekend, others take off two weeks, and some take off the entire month of August. With the influx of tourists visiting Italy from outside the country, the autostrade (Italian tolls roads) are jammed with cars during this period of time, especially on that weekend, with everyone headed to the lakes, mountains and shore.

Naturally, this is also one the most crowded times at Italy’s beaches. In fact, summer beach-going seems to be so ingrained in Italian culture that even far-right leader Matteo Salvini recently took to the beach in what the media dubbed a “beach tour,” hoping to drum up support for his agenda at a time and place when Italians traditionally are seeking a respite from unemployment, politics and other woes.

Capturing summer on Mondello Beach

Happy Winter on Mondello Beach(Credit: POV)

Photo asset from Happy Winter (Credit: POV)

Towards the end of the 19th century, Mondello Beach became popular as a trendy getaway for the wealthy. That era is still represented by the many Liberty-style (also called Italian Art Nouveau) summer villas that remain, framing the water, and a stunning Liberty-style bathing station (now housing a restaurant and bar) that was designed by architect Rudolf Stualker in 1912.


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These days, Mondello Beach isn’t quite as chic but remains just as popular. Beachgoers can rent one of the colorful, wooden huts lined up in rows for the Ferragosto holiday, and gather together with family and friends to soak in the sun and swim in the aquamarine waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. It’s an experience that allows them to forget about any economic misfortunes.

A fishing pier off Mondello Beach (Credit: Pixabay)

This excellent documentary, directed by a talented young Italian filmmaker, Giovanni Totaro, captures the period of time just before the Ferrogosto holiday when people are readying their cabanas.

From sunrise to sunset, this slice-of-life story captures young lovers flirting and stealing embraces; midlifers with sun-kissed complexions and paunchy midriffs; and retirees playing cards. Of course, since this is Italy, there is plenty of eating, drinking and laughing, too. All this takes place before the realities of the winter to come.

The storyline simultaneously develops three portraits: one of a family in debt, trying the dodge the tax authorities, and seeking a better life for their children; that of three women hoping to regain their vitality and youth; and lastly, a right-wing politician (Tony Serio) seeking a seat on the Palermo Council. (Knowing that this movie was made before Salvini’s beach jaunt made the last storyline feel prescient.)

Both the music and cinematography of Happy Winter add to the feeling that you’re right on the beach with everyone else.

The 60-minute film, in Italian with English subtitles and was shown at many film festivals. The documentary was named Best International Documentary at the Antenna Documentary Film Festival 2018. 

You can watch the Happy Winter trailer here:

Happy Winter is a vivid portrait of a small Italian community facing universal fears, hopes and struggles,” comments Chris White, executive producer for POV in a press release. “With a gentle approach to its subjects, the film offers a hopeful and often humorous view into the struggles confronted by everyday people, salvaging genuine connection and community within an economic crisis. Happy Winter shows us the nuanced intersections between the personal and political down to an intimate, microscopic level.”

Where to watch Happy Winter, the Mondello Beach movie:

Happy Winter will have its national broadcast debut on the PBS documentary series POV and on Monday, August 12 at 10 p.m. (check local listings). POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series now in its 32nd season.

Viewers can also stream the movie here.


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  • Reply
    Alison Abbott
    August 12, 2019 at 11:23 am

    I love PBS POV. They always have great films. I see that TBEX jsut announced Sicily as their 2020 European destination and I have always wanted to go. Will make sure to watch Happy Winter. Mondello Beach looks like it has a lot of character!

  • Reply
    Ursula Maxwell-Lewis
    August 12, 2019 at 5:18 pm

    I’m an avid PBS follower. They always choose outstanding documentaries. I’ll be sure to watch for Happy Winter when we get it in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Reply
    August 13, 2019 at 10:03 pm

    Mondello Beach looks amazing. Will definitely watch the movie too. Definitely somewhere to put on the list – hoping to get to TBEX in Italy next year – are you?

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 14, 2019 at 9:29 am

      Sounds very inviting! I’m hoping to get there sooner:-)

    • Reply
      Rose Pslmer
      August 18, 2019 at 8:12 am

      Going to Sicily in March for TBEX so will make sure to watch this.

  • Reply
    Judy Freedy
    August 15, 2019 at 8:07 am

    We went to Mondello beach when we were staying in Palermo. It was so crowded and challenging to even find a spot to sit. It’s a very busy beach especially on a summer weekend. Would be fun to watch the documentary.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 15, 2019 at 9:41 am

      You should be able to stream it. Would love to hear your reaction!

      • Reply
        Judith Hillis
        August 16, 2019 at 2:55 pm

        I watched this the other night and enjoyed it very much. I wondered how long do these vacationers stay at the beach? Do they go home in the evening or sleep in their little huts?

        • Reply
          Irene S. Levine
          August 16, 2019 at 4:12 pm

          I had the same question and I asked a young woman who lives in Sicily. She said that most people use the huts for the day—for changing clothes and a respite in the shade. She also told me that there are many different areas of the beach and this was a snippet of one!

  • Reply
    Marilyn B
    August 15, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks – just set my DVR to record this! We loved Sicily. Visited Taormina on a cruise about 10 years ago and then took a 10 day road trip 2 years ago. One of our very favorite trips. Didn’t get to the beach but will enjoy watching this film.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 15, 2019 at 3:03 pm

      Hope you enjoy it and it brings back memories of Sicilia!

  • Reply
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    August 15, 2019 at 9:44 pm

    I will indeed be watching for the “Happy Winter” film on PBS. I’d like to see more of Mondello Beach.

  • Reply
    Patti Morrow
    August 16, 2019 at 10:38 am

    Wow, it looks amazing! Since I’m going to TBEX in Sicily next year, I’m definitely going to watch it!

  • Reply
    November 2, 2019 at 10:01 am

    The beach looks nice, even though I’m not a beach person. Sicily however sounds interesting and I hope to spend a while there in January or February investigating some of the inner parts of the island.

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