There are three main struggles in the cosmos. The most obvious is the battle between good and evil, that universal war that seems to touch everyone's reality - both physically and metaphysically. Then there is the conflict between classes, the political potboiler existing among the haves and the have nots, the rich and the poor, the elite and the disenfranchised. Though it is probably as potent as the ethereal sortie between God and Satan, it is usually dismissed as the loathsome lament of some radical or liberal. Last, but certainly not least, is the battle of the sexes. The raging riot between men and women, guys and gals, frames a great deal of our social interaction, especially with the media portraying the pairing and the impossibly complex conditions that make up the eventual mating between the two.
No one understood this better than the deliriously defiant director Lina Wertmüller. Throughout the course of her crazy career, she crafted an entire oeuvre out of passion, politics and the perversion of both. The first woman ever nominated for a Best Director Oscar, and renowned for creating some of the seminal films of mid-period Italian cinema, Wertmüller is an all but forgotten facet of the film student's educational process. While many may know her as the inspiration for the recently made Madonna abomination Swept Away (it was based on Wertmüller's movie of the same name) few can name a film beyond the trio that made her famous (The Seduction of Mimi and Seven Beauties being the other two). Now, thanks to Koch Lorber, we get a chance to see what the director's been up to since her 70s heyday. The answer is as complex and as compelling as the movies she's made, and the eternal struggles she depicted.
Picking up at an odd place in Wertmüller's canon (it skips early films, including The Seduction of Mimi, Love and Anarchy and All Screwed Up) and avoiding some of her more middling mid-70s work to jump directly into the late 90s (with a stop off at 1986 along the way) this is hardly a box set for beginners. Indeed, The Lina Wertmüller Collection throws us directly into two of the domineering director's most challenging - and yes, satisfying - films. There is no grace period involved, no easing in with examples that forewarn of her fiercely independent take on Italian social structures.
No, this box set just blasts right in to the feminism, activism, socialism and romanticism that marked Wertmüller as a filmmaker with overwhelming warped ideals. Whether it's a carnal screwball comedy or a probing period piece, Wertmüller's eye was clearly centered on the internal, as well as external, battle between people and their particular beliefs. Nowhere is this more clear than in the first film of this set:
Swept Away (a.k.a. Travolti da un insolito destino nell'azzurro mare d'agosto or Swept Away... by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August, 1974) Score: ****1/2
Plot Synposis: While traveling on a luxury yacht, rich social democrat Raffaella Pavone Lanzetti ends up stranded on a raft with one of the crewmen, a roguish communist named Gennarino Carunchio. The two can't stand each other, and the tension is tight between them. Eventually landing on a deserted island, the two begin a battle of wits that mixes sex, politics and gender issues. Raffaella demands to be treated with respect, as someone of her class considers appropriate. But Gennarino is out to break the bourgeois bitch's spirit, and show her how it feels to be on the wrong end up persecution, poverty and abuse.
Though it is strong in content and even more potent in concept, Swept Away is first and foremost an allegory. It is a fable forged out of the embittered battle between Italy's warring regions (North vs. South) and classes (rich vs. poor) and yet, thanks to the obvious gender issues Wertmüller introduces into the film, the movie becomes much more than mere parable. It's really a feminist manifesto disguised as an extended male domination fantasy, a direct denouncement of machismo as one woman's walk into use and abuse.
All throughout the film, Wertmüller sprinkles clues as to her underlying themes. As the upper class couples yell and scream their political screeds at each other, the crew members look on in levels of disbelief. Indeed, Wertmüller is asking us to look beneath the obvious surface of what's being said, and look at who is saying it. Raffaella is the most political of all the people on board, able to talk over and above everyone else. She needs a lesson in manipulation, in making her point without pounding people over the head.
Gennarino thinks he can simply beat it out of her. This is a very risky role for Italian stalwart Giancarlo Giannini. He is callous and uncouth, physically rude and mentally unnerving when he finally gets Raffaella alone. Initially, Swept Away looks to be a basic political cartoon, with the poor man beating on the rich woman, taking out all the sins of the social order on this one captive creation of it. Much of the dialogue is made up of attacks and analysis, with each side pitching their position in long drawn out monologues of misery and rage. You can practically feel the pain that Gennarino experiences as a member of the minority. That he chooses to make Raffaella realize it bodily is one of this film's most amazingly brave elements (though modern audiences may see it as more than mildly disturbing).
But then Wertmüller turns it all on us. She moves from political bedfellows to other strange couplings. Sex is a constant in this film, with bracing blue language littered throughout everyone's mode of expression. We know that Gennarino and Raffaella will eventually fall into each other's arms: it's the mechanism of the match that is most interesting. Mariangela Melato (who is amazing in the film) does an interesting thing when Raffaella finally falls under Gennarino's control. Though we are sure her actions are motivated by love, there is a little glint in her eye that seems to indicate that she's finally understood the art of manipulation and control - and she's working out all the necessary kinks right here on the island.
As a result, we get a film that is far more ambiguous than it first appears. Any desert island movie wants to get to its 'back to nature' novelty before we start to see the flaws in the premise. But Swept Away is not really about love in bloom far away from civilization. It's about education and erudition, about playing the game the way someone wants only to end up right where you yourself want to be. While it is possible for the ending to pull on your heartstrings, the truth seems far more telling. The way we see the characters in the end is the way a modern audience understands the male/female dynamic. Over 30 years ago, this insight might have gone by unnoticed. But in the light of a new millennium, Wertmüller delivered the first girl power picture, and it's a stunning masterstroke of a movie.
Seven Beauties (a.k.a. Pasqualino Settebellezze, or Pasqualino Seven Beauties, 1975) Score: *****
Plot Synopsis: After deserting his unit in World War II, Pasqualino Settebellezze, often called Pasqualino Seven Beauties, is captured by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp. There, as he awaits the inevitable, he thinks back upon his life. Coming from a family of seven sisters (the 'beauties') and being the only man in the house, Pasqualino spent his days in defense of the family honor. After accidentally killing his sister's boyfriend/pimp, he is sent to an asylum. He eventually joins up to avoid his sentence. Now he pins his hopes of survival on a sadistic female Nazi commandant. If he can woo her, like he wooed the women in town, he may make it.
If Swept Away was set us as a battle of the sexes soaked in politics, then Seven Beauties is the practical polar opposite - a movie about ideals bathed in the ridiculous rationales of lust and life. Arguably Wertmüller's masterpiece, this remarkably intense and beautiful drama dabbles in comedy, satire and the most inhuman tragedy of recent history, the Holocaust. But instead of some bumbling bullshit like Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful (a crime against cinema) Wertmüller uses the horror of the Final Solution as a perfect mirror for the soul of her characters. We don't get cartoon capering or stupid misplaced slapstick. Instead, Wertmüller mixes misery with mystery to have us questioning our own motives when it comes to saving our skins.
Naturally, you need a lead who can guide you through this Gravity's Rainbow of the human soul, and Wertmüller regular Giancarlo Giannini is just the suave sad sack for the job. When we first see Pasqualino, he's a hooded figure hiding in the forest. He's gruff and grubby, a mere shadow of himself after many days AWOL from the Italian army. But the minute Wertmüller places us in flashback mode, we see a whole other Pasqualino - in practically a whole other movie. Indeed, one of the great joys of Seven Beauties is watching Wertmüller play with the conventions of comedy, farce, drama, dancehall, war, horror and sex to manufacture her crazy quilt of a narrative. And at the center is Giannini, almost too dashing and debonair in a suit straight out of a 40s gangster epic.
We are supposed to see Pasqualino as a showoff, a far too proud peacock strutting around without the inner bravery to support his outer show of class. He's a fraud, and throughout Seven Beauties we learn just how low Pasqualino will go to save his skin and protect his person. At first, Wertmüller is making a domestic fairytale, with the lowly younger brother defending his older, quite unattractive sisters (the 'seven beauties' moniker is an obvious slight at Pasqualino's family) against the constant onslaught of disrespect posed by what appears to be the entire population of Naples. But once Pasqualino pulls the gun on Totonno the pimp, the film shifts over into a true tale of survival. Some of it is savagely funny (Pasqualino trying to figure out how to cut up Totonno's body once he's dead) while other moments are heart wrenching in their pain.
Indeed, suffering is the central element in Seven Beauties. Wertmüller makes it very clear that everything that happens to Pasqualino - the disgrace of his sister, the death of Totonno, the prison term, the stay at the asylum - truly eat this man up inside. When pushed to the limit, and forced to channel that distress into a fight for his very life, he ends up doing very inhuman and inhumane things. The last 30 minutes of this movie are a real revelation, with The Honeymoon Killer's Shirley Stoler essaying the absolute embodiment of evil as the female camp commandant. But she is not brutal in the horrific violence we see all around. She's heinous because she plays on the truth. She knows Pasqualino is attempting to seduce her to save his hide, and she's going to play this patsy for all the horror she can. Hers is a calm, matter of fact kind of malevolence, which is frankly what we've always envisioned the Nazis to be all along.
Yet Wertmüller also makes her a veiled statement on feminism, the kind of men-hating harpies who set the agenda for so-called women's equality. The Commandant constantly demeans and undermines Pasqualino, knowing that he has to take it or loose his life. Just like the political games that made the patriarchy passive while feminists played the blame game, the Nazi knows she has the upper hand. By pushing this character to his limits, and then passed them, Wertmüller opens up a whole new avenue to explore - and this is with only a few minutes left in the film. What follows is stunning - perhaps the most perfectly realized sequence of how people perform under stress that has ever been captured on film. With final words that are both exhilarating and sad, and an overall message that maligns wars of all types (and those who would carry them out) Wertmüller has crafted a political protest out of the tenets of tragedy. Seven Beauties is one of the great films in the canon of cinema and deserves all the accolades it received upon release, and now.
Summer Night (a.k.a. Notte d'estate con profilo greco, occhi a mandorla e odore di basilico, a.k.a. Summer Night, with Greek Profile, Almond Eyes and Scent of Basil, 1986) Score: ***1/2
Plot Synopsis: Fulvia is a wealthy industrialist whose made her money as part of a rich conglomerate that supposedly supports the environment. She and her cohorts are sick and tired of a boorish Sicilian renegade named Beppe. He has been behind a recent string of kidnappings and has cost the elite almost $100 million. Fulvia decides to get even. She hires a CIA super spy to snatch Beppe, and when he succeeds, the rogue is taken to Fulvia's secluded island estate. There he is held for ransom, and taunted by Fulvia for being a brute. When Beppe demands sex as part of his sentence, things go from simple to complex in this crazy criminal scenario.
Five films removed from the masterpiece Seven Beauties, and working again with one of her favorite actresses (Swept Away's Mariangela Melato) Summer Night feels like an attempt to recapture the Lina Wertmüller that wowed the critical community in the mid 70s. After her English language debut with A Night Full of Rain, the director went on to make Blood Feud (1978), A Joke of Destiny (1983), Softy...Softly (1984) and A Complex Plot About Women, Alleys and Crimes (1986). None of them were as well received as her earlier work. So you can forgive an auteur for returning to the scene of her initial success to rework some of the themes that have marked her oeuvre.
For a while, Summer Night simply simmers. Melato, in her mid 40s at the time, still scintillates as the bored, corrupt Fulvia, and Michele Placido is excellent as the pompous pig Beppe. We get a lot of the standard Wertmüller musing, with political and social screeds spoken out loud in long, sometimes hilarious sermonettes. The carnal cat and mouse game played by Fulvia and Beppe is a lot of fun (even it we realize where it's going from the outset) and the ancillary comic characters of the bizarre spy and his bumbling sidekick add a very nice dimension of farce. For a while, Summer Night is engaging and winning, reminding us constantly why Wertmüller was a critical darling from a decade before.
But then something goes amiss. In reality, much of Summer Night feels formulaic, as if the director stumbled across a book on how to be a "Lina Wertmüller style" filmmaker and wanted to try it out for herself. You could also call it the antithesis of Swept Away, as it's the woman attempting to break the man of his domineering spirit. But Wertmüller gets trapped in the same old sex salvation argument, repeating once again that physical pleasure cleanses and binds individuals at deep, primordial levels. The love scene between Melato and Placido is very sensual and passionate, but dare say it goes on for far too long. It threatens to take over the entire third act of the film. By the time we get to the deal and the denouement, a definite feeling of "been there, done that" creeps over us.
Then there is the ending. Frankly, in the previous films discussed, we have no idea where the narrative is taking us. In Swept Away, the resolution is up in the air until the final shot, while in Seven Beauties, the predicament of our lead could easily go one of several satisfying ways. But Summer Night ends with a whimper, not a galvanizing bang. Wertmüller telegraphs it from the moment we know that Fulvia means to kidnap Beppe for retribution. Since their entire relationship has been a series of back and forths, what Beppe does next is so obvious as to seem shallow and simplistic. Wertmüller should have taken a risk here, emphasizing some aspect of humanity (as she did in Beauties) or social structure (as she did in Swept Away).
The result then is something not quite as fresh the second (or is it third of fourth) time around, a cinematic experience that reminds us of triumphs past while it keeps forgetting the facets that made those masterpieces work in the first place. Summer Night is in no way boring - Wertmüller's style and attention to detail are as artistic and as pleasing as ever - but we do wish for some of the drive, the daredevil brazenness of her previous work to return. As gentle and soothing as a summer wind, this evening in the heat of political and physical passion is an affair to enjoy. Remembering it may be another matter all together.
The Nymph (a.k.a. Ninfa plebea, 1996) Score: **
Plot Synopsis: Young Miluzza is an innocent girl, unsure of the ways of the world. As she matures, the men in her small town find her a potent object of sexual desire. In fact, many feel she is as approachable and accessible as her mother, the town whore. Though married, Miluzza's mother takes many lovers. Her husband merely goes about his business, convinced that one day his wife will come to her senses. When tragedy strikes, Miluzza is left all alone. While hiding from the Germans during the war, she stumbles across Pietro, a wounded soldier. He takes Miluzza back to his home, where the two hope to find some manner of happiness.
The Nymph is a movie that relies so heavily on its lead character, our ability to identify with her, sympathize with her plight and fight for her fate that any small slip, even the slightest misstep or mistake, and we instantly fall out of favor with her. Based on a novel that itself seems lifted from dozens of previous tomes where a young woman makes her way through the maze of social and interpersonal problems, the story is purposefully melodramatic and fantastical. With its vignette-oriented style, linear line from start to finish, and dozens of unresolved plots threads, what we have here is less a film and more a mini-series carved up and condensed to fit a big screen running time. There is simply so much left out of this saga - almost all revolving around Miluzza's mother and father - that we never feel we've been properly introduced to the characters. They perform, fall away from the narrative, and are never mentioned again.
As such, The Nymph is not very satisfying. It asks too much of us, and gives very little to anchor our attention. As an actress and an icon, young Lucia Cara may be every Mediterranean man's jailbait dream, but she comes across more silly than sexual. Whether she's up a priest's hassock fondling his enflamed genital sores (off camera, thankfully) or spending the day at a ritzy hotel with her employer, this is a girl who never once gets the message. Men are practically impregnating her with their eyes, and she seems totally oblivious to the ogling. One might argue that, when her humongous whore of a mother is around, all the attention is averted to her cuckolding craziness. But Miluzza is not really tuned to that wanton wavelength. She seems both a free spirit, and a carnal simpleton at the same time.
All of this throws Wertmüller off her game. As a director, sex has been one of the biggest battlefronts she's ever carried a true torch for. Usually, it is as a way of controlling or liberating one's soul. But in The Nymph, premarital relations and adultery are bathed in their old world traditions of sin and scandal. Wertmüller may be doing this to show how stupid such a sentiment is, how it is unfair to judge a girl for being 'broken" when it is the men who raped, or ravaged her that caused the crack in the first place.
Still, the strumpet aspect keeps coming back to haunt us. No matter how full of life she is, Miluzza's immoral momma is a tramp. She's so well known for her random trysts (including the one we witness, with a well-endowed solider) that people just accept it as a part of the local color. Yet somehow, when Miluzza's purity is questioned, she instantly becomes a pariah. Her mother seemed to have little problem holding her head up in public. But when the marked Miluzza walks down the street, she must dodge catcalls and waste waterfalls along the way. Indeed, the harshness in which she is treated seems insane compared to what the movie is trying to say. If being a whore is so bad, why visit the sins of the mother on the child? Wouldn't it be better to let the adults take the rap for their own randy behavior?
All these unanswered questions - and lots more - make The Nymph a struggle to accept. This is the first time in the box set where, as a director, Wertmüller is dragging, not spiriting us along with her story. Trapped by the literary basis for her tale, she must try to cover the book while inspiring some of her own idiosyncratic concept to the film. It's startling how 10 years (since Summer Night) and 20 years (since Seven Beauties) have changed this filmmaker. Gone are the political rants, the emotional arguments and substantive soliloquies. In their place are long, languid shots of gorgeous vistas (outside its shortcomings, this is an amazingly visual film) and soap opera style shuffling.
By the time we meet Pietro's family (and realize we are about to revisit the last 90 minutes of the movie all over again) we start to wonder what Wertmüller is striving for. This movie has no real message. And with an ending that is either the height of magical realism or a ruse on the entire audience, we don't know what to think. Indeed, when all is said and done, The Nymph ends up feeling like much ado about boffing - with neither element being very interesting.
Ferdinando and Carolina (a.k.a. Ferdinando e Carolina, 1999) Score: ***
Plot Synopsis: When he is made King of Naples, young Ferdinando learns the hard way that his life - both political and romantic - will be dictated by the whims of others, including his father (the newly crowned King of Spain) and the calculating Empress of Austria. Decades later, on his death bed, he remembers his rambunctious youth, and the first time he ever laid eyes on the blond temptress Maria Carolina d'Asburgo, who would change his life and his dynasty forever. Though their marriage appears perfect at first, Ferdinando soon learns that Carolina has designs on more than just his heart - his crown may be in jeopardy as well.
Though it has an ending which doesn't live up to the rest of the movie's many joys, Ferdinando and Carolina is a wonderful, wicked comedy, a late in life gem for the 73 year old Wertmüller. Though it plays most of its history for farce rather than fact (this film proves that even the great Italian director wasn't above the occasional fart joke), many of the themes that Wertmüller would explore throughout her career are contained in this romantic romp through ancient Mediterranean politics. The interesting twist here is that it is the male, Ferdinando, who suffers the sexual slings and arrows that Wertmüller is wielding. He is the helpless pawn, driven to diversion by his dick, and sold down the river for his risqué love of physical pleasure.
Like Kubrick in Barry Lyndon, Wertmüller attempts to recreate the time and place of her period piece, and she does a magnificent job with the sets and the situations. The people all appear appropriate for the era (none of that typical "modern face in an ancient world" design at work here) and even though there is lots of colorful language and circumstances (think of this as Amadeus with more amorous needs) we totally fall for the balance between enlightenment and decadence the director is striving for. In his first film role, Sergio Assisi is wonderful as Ferdinando. He captures the exuberance of his young king's carriage, while never once giving in to the urge to overdo it.
As Carolina, Gabriella Pession is a little more limited in likeability. This character is rather underwritten (she's not even introduced until about halfway through the film) and once she takes her place as Queen, she instantly moves from sex kitten to shrew. We understand that this is part of Wertmüller's design, the unknown vixen who has spikes at the end of her delicate cat claws. But Carolina is supposed to be Ferdinando's great love - it's the woman he's obsessed with while on his deathbed - and yet we never feel that passion beyond the boudoir. As interesting icon, families, servants and confidants on both side are excellent, acting in a manner both apropos for their position and part in Wertmüller's world. But the leads loose us on occasion, requiring us to struggle through something that really should breeze by on the potent perfume of power and sex.
The other aspect of the story that is sketchy is the final act. In order to prevent a shift in power from Naples to Austria, an elaborate ruse is set up in which the king will get caught in bed with another, forcing Carolina into the arms of a paramour and a resulting scandal. But it is all staged so awkwardly, with limited information for the audience regarding the power of appearances and the consequences of being cuckolded that we never really know how the plan proposes to work. When Ferdinando circumvents it, wanting to believe that it is he, not the lover, that really guides his gal's heart, we don't understand why that is so important. As king, he is a powerless pervert who simply wants to satisfy his baser needs. Why he needs vindication from a harpie who constantly criticizes him seems rather one note.
Still, this is a visually lush work, with some odd gore moments (Ferdinando has a near-death freak-out, filled with bloody beheadings and throat slitting) and Wertmüller's usual attention to detail. The voice-over narrative can be annoying at times, since the lines travel by so quickly we don't have time to digest their meaning. The love scenes that usually permeate the director's work are limited in scope and spectacle here. They are understated and occasionally unseen. But the aspect of Ferdinando and Carolina that is most amazing is the existence of a female character who is not undermined by her desire for carnal power and control. Unlike the heroines in Swept Away, Seven Beauties, Summer Nights or The Nymph, sex becomes a tool for triumph, not a path to possible defeat for the calculating Carolina.
Power is paramount in Wertmüller's canon, as all the films in this box set base their beliefs in the authority of lust, the clout of class and the influence of politics and social philosophy. Wertmüller's early works just drip with direct quotes from anarchist chants and liberal literature. She places communists next to capitalists, the frigid next to the free of spirit and records the red hot fireworks. Of course, it works better in some cases (Swept Away, Seven Beauties) than in others (The Nymph, in particular) and as she got older, the lure of flesh becomes less and less important (or maybe she felt that, after Summer Night, there was only so much skin someone could show without it becoming antithetical to her point). By the time we reach the ribald adventures of Ferdinando, we seem to have less sexual content than ever before.
Wertmüller always appeared more interested in the battle than the result. Many of the movies in this box set base their drama on the argument, not the agreement. In Swept Away, our lovers are less interesting when they're not at each other's throats, and Summer Night suddenly comes alive when the capitalist and her kidnapper prey get into it. We see wisps of these contentious conversations elsewhere (Ferdinando argues for his power - once, and our town pariah makes a single speech about it being unfair that she is judged by her mother's past), but for the most part, once she got these screeds out of her system, Wertmüller moved on.
Seven Beauties is the certified masterpiece here, a movie both moving and meaningful, presenting a look at the lasting effects of persecution and probability without demeaning or degrading the intent behind either. In reality, this entire box set is a revelation. Would it have been stupendous had The Seduction of Mimi and Love and Anarchy replaced The Nymph and Ferdinando and Carolina? Most definitely. Would it have been a definitive look at this artist? The answer, sadly, is no. Sometimes, we have to stumble across some missteps to see what an auteur is really made of.
There is a lot more to Lina Wertmüller than the five films that make up this impressive collection. Yet for the privilege to see Swept Away and Seven Beauties alone, Koch Lorber's efforts should be praised. At one time, Wertmüller was the voice for her country's concerns. That, at 80, she's still a filmic force to be reckoned with goes directly to her power as a director. While everything she attempted might not be flawless, there is no denying Wertmüller's ways. She's one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
First off, here are the specifics for this DVD release. Swept Away and Summer Night are offered in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers, while Seven Beauties, The Nymph and Ferdinando and Carolina are all 4x3 letterbox presentations (which roughly translates into a 1.66:1 non anamorphic format). This means that individuals anxious for a collection of Wertmüller's movies in complete 16x9 images are out of luck. This decision seems baffling, since any box set celebrating a particular filmmaker would or should want to offer the best version of the movies as possible.
From an aesthetic point, Swept Away, Seven Beauties and Summer Night look sensational. The former two are almost flawless, delivered in prints that put previous available titles to shame. Summer Night looks nice as well, but has some grain, dirt and fading issues, as do The Nymph and Ferdinando and Carolina. Naturally, we are dealing with foreign films, and companies who are geared less toward preservation and more toward the bottom line. Of the five films though, only The Nymph looks less than fetching. The colors are lifeless and the whole visualization feels flat and dull.
Another oddity in this set is the way the sound situations are handled. You'd figure that the films made in the late 80s and 90s would be offered with fully remastered and digitized aural elements. Sadly, they are simple, Dolby Digital Stereo packages, with very little ambience or atmosphere. In the case of this collection, only Swept Away and Seven Beauties get the remaster treatment, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround is un-involving, making minimal use of the speakers. Indeed, all the films here sound flat, tinny and very brash. Dialogue nearly distorts, and the musical accompaniment for each film is missing all the woofer warming bottom ranges. Thankfully, each film is offered in its original Italian, with English subtitles that are clear, crisp, easy to read, and accurate in their translation.
All the bonus material collected for the box set can be found on an enclosed sixth disc. With the extra DVD, you should get a wealth of wonders. Sadly, the sole worthwhile feature (the collection of trailers and gallery images are nice, but not necessary) is the 80-minute interview with Wertmüller. Filmed when the director was well into her 70s, this in-depth discussion (taken from an Italian TV presentation) moves from her schooling, through her Mimi/Swept Away/Seven Beauties heyday, and into her current climate of creativity. While it is not very film specific - she skips around a lot and mentions many movies not part of this set - it is still entertaining.
It is here where she explains how she changed Giancarlo Giannini from a performer who acted "with his hair" to one who worked "with his eyes". She discusses the near disaster on the set of Swept Away which caused her to use six separate stand-ins for actress Mariangela Melato and laments the loss of Frederico Fellini, someone who she worked with, admired and learned a great deal from. Wertmüller is fascinating, upfront and honest about her politics. She labels herself an anarchist, and laughs when discussing a group of same who approached her about joining up - a concept which preaches the polar opposite of said philosophy.
What this set really screams for though is context. An essay over a few pages in an enclosed pamphlet can't make up for a lack of looking back, and the quaint Q&A with Wertmüller won't satisfy it either. Commentaries on each film providing background and a broader scope of setting would have been wonderful. And where is Giannini? Or Melato? Both should be here in discussions about working with Wertmüller. What about a piece on her Oscar nod? Certainly that honor deserves some substantive attention. As great as some of the films are in this collection, that is how humdrum the desire to dish out the extras appears.
As the ethereal battles rage on, as man challenges woman and light lances dark, it's interesting to now see the struggle through Wertmüller's wise eyes. In Swept Away, love may conquer all, but place and prominence seem to dictate the reality of things. Seven Beauties argues that amorality and selfishness may get you farther than an egalitarian or utopian ideal. Summer Night stresses that those who live by the sword are destined to desire those who flaunt such fearlessness directly back at them, while The Nymph negates the notion that purity of heart means clarity of reputation. But the final strategic statistics may come from Ferdinando and Carolina. Here is a man with all the power in the world, an ability to control the fate of thousands, and yet all he longs to know is whom his lover is thinking of when she lusts for love.
Indeed, the war of the sexes and the dire distinctions over class are really just subsets of the universal clash between good and evil, happiness vs. Hell. Only problem is, on which side do these concepts usually reside? In Wertmüller's world, that can be a gray area of grandiose proportions. Though not as complete as cinemaniacs would want, The Lina Wertmüller Collection reminds us that the greatest fights are those fought for emotional, not eternal reasons. Hers is an oeuvre laced in power and passion, each one with filmic fires burning bright and bold. It's amazing, some 30 years later, how brilliantly they still blaze.
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