For reasons I don't entirely understand the films of Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmüller von Elgg Español von Braueich - Lina Wertmüller - aren't quite as highly regarded as they once were. Back in the 1970s, the latest Wertmüller movie was a cultural event. Sophisticated moviegoers flocked to her movies with the same passion and excitement they would for the latest Fellini or Bergman. She was a darling among the Kaels and Crists and Sarrises and, significantly, with her 1975 hit Seven Beauties (Pasqualino Sette Bellezze), Wertmüller became the first woman ever nominated for an Academy Award as Best Director.
Three of among her very best are now out on Blu-ray and ripe for rediscovery by a new generation: The Seduction of Mimi ( Mimí metallurgico ferito nell'onore , or "Mimi the Metal Worker, Wounded in Honor," 1972), Love and Anarchy (Film d'amore e d'anarchia, ovvero: stamattina alle 10, in via dei Fiori, nella nota casa di tolleranza... , or "This Morning at 10, on Flower Street, in a Famous Brothel ..." 1973), and All Screwed Up (Tutto a posto e niente in ordine, or "Everything Ready, Nothing Works," also the original English title, 1974).
The discs have good if imperfect transfers, and are regrettably extremely light on extras when they really deserve audio commentaries, booklet essays, and retrospective documentaries. But the movies are great and worth seeking out.
In The Seduction of Mimi, hapless Sicilian laborer Carmelo Mardocheo (Giancarlo Giannini), who goes by the nickname Mimí, dislikes being strong-armed by the local Don, Calogero (Turi Ferro), into voting for the gangster's candidate: anticommunist, anti-unionist Cannamozza. Assured by local comunistas that all voting is strictly secret ballot, Mimí defiantly votes for the Communist ticket, and promptly loses his job. Meanwhile, Mimí is unhappily married to Rosalia (Agostina Belli), who has failed to produce any children for him and generally is too embarrassed to enjoy the sex Mimí craves constantly.
Leaving behind his wife, Mimí moves to fog-shrouded Turin where he works illegally at a construction site. When one of the workers falls off the scaffolding to his death, Mimí unwittingly gets into the same truck his mobster superiors are using to unceremoniously dump the undocumented body. The boss, Salvatore Tricarico (also Ferro), initially plans on killing this witness, but Mimí claims close ties to the Liggio crime family back in Sicily. His life is spared and a cushy, well-paying job is found in exchange for his silence.
Settled but lonely, Mimí falls for a communist activist and woolens goods seller, Fiorella "Fiore" Meneghini (Mariangela Melato), who amusingly wears nothing but. His "southerner" machismo posing initially repels her, but gradually he wins her over with persistent teary-eyed declarations of love. Soon enough, she's pregnant with his child. Mimí is a happy man, but by this time the union is complaining Mimí is neglecting the cause, he's transferred back to Sicily where his wife likely will learn of his mistress, and there's the Mafia to worry about.
As with other Wertmüller films, The Seduction of Mimi is a spirited, sometimes devastating satire jumbling the politics of sex, relationships, labor relations, and communism in ways that must seem even more alien to American viewers than they did to college students and well-read urbanites back in the 1970s. Watching this I kept wondering if Wertmüller might resonate more with Japanese audiences than contemporary American ones. Like Italy, where there is a cultural divide between "southerners" and Sicilians, Japanese urbanites tend to look down upon rural people from the north and from its southernmost islands, where vote-buying and other manipulation by unsavory politicians and gangsters was quite prevalent in the 1970s. The yakuza all but owns the construction industry as in Italy, and they are fiercely anticommunist in the same violent fashion as the Mafia. Moreover, traditional male-female roles correspond much more closely to what is found in Japan than America.
Regardless, Wertmüller's intentions are pretty clear. With a sometimes wicked sense of humor she contrasts the absurd hypocrisies and double standards of male-female sexual politics with a political system where the workingman is invariably exploited and only the most corrupt and violent are assured financial security. Mimí blows with the wind, alternating between the Mafia and the communists not out of any personal political conviction but to simply earn the best pay under the best working conditions.
The film starts to run out of steam during its significantly broader third act when Mimí, wanting to humiliate his wife after she dares to secure a lover of her own, in turn seduces her lover's wife. However, this does lead to the film's most celebrated sequence, and surely one of the funniest sex scenes ever done, with Mimí bedding down the lover's grotesque and enormous woman.
Looking at it now, a big part of The Seduction of Mimi's appeal is the performances. Giancarlo Giannini, better known to mainstream audiences for his roles in Hannibal and the recent James Bond films, is quite remarkable in this. A devilishly handsome man offscreen, he's spectacularly foolish on camera, alternately oafish, cowardly, and full of Sicilian bravado, childish, joyful, terrified, heartsick, and disingenuous. This was the first of four acclaimed movies he made in quick succession with Wertmüller, and he's as varied as he is superb in all of them.
Thin, saucer-eyed Mariangela Melato, as equally tied to Wertmüller's masterpieces as Giannini, is similarly captivating, though her performance in Wertmüller's Swept Away is perhaps her most famous. Like Giannini, Melato is better known to Americans for altogether different roles, notably as the sadistic General Kala in Dino de Laurentiis's goofy Flash Gordon (1980 - "What do you mean, 'Flash Gorrrrrdon aprrrroachink?")
Video & Audio
Apparently, The Seduction of Mimi was first released in America in a truncated 90-minute version, but this is the complete 112-minute Italian cut. The 1.85:1, 1920 x 1080p transfer is generally strong but with some weird digital graininess that subtracts slightly from the overall presentation. (It's not nearly as flawed as Kino's Sophia Loren titles from last year, however.) The Italian mono, supported by English subtitles, is crisp and clear.
Kino needn't have bothered with the one supplement offered: five incredibly grainy stills so awful one has squint to even make out what they are.
Despite the dearth of extra features and the imperfect transfer, The Seduction of Mimi is nevertheless a must-see and the transfer beats out most '70s art house presentations any day. A DVD Talk Collector Series Title.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.