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Swiss-Italian Lina Wertmüller has been a controversial name in international filmmaking since the early 1970s. An assistant to Federico Fellini, she almost immediately began directing pictures with a pronounced political bent. From 1963's The Lizards forward, her heroes have often been rural, Southern Italians experiencing class prejudice and political oppression. Wertmüller's work tends toward sexual frankness and frequently expresses the earthy vulgarity of the rural Italian culture. Two of her films received wide releases in the United States. The attractive actors Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato played a castaway couple in 1974's Swept Away, a satiric farce about a rich woman seduced by a penniless sailor. The even better known Seven Beauties begins as a comedy but takes a very dark turn. In the Fascist era, gigolo Giancarlo Giannini finds himself in a German concentration camp. His only hope for survival is to seduce an obese and hateful female guard. Sometimes difficult to watch, Seven Beauties earned Wertmüller two Oscar nominations for directing and writing. She was the first woman to be nominated for Best Director.
Giancarolo Giannini and Mariangela Melato also starred in 1973's Love and Anarchy, another blend of comedy and anti-Fascist politics set in a Roman bordello in the 1930s. Wertmüller was fond of long titles, and her film's full official name is Film d'amore e d'anarchia, ovvero 'stamattina alle 10 in via dei Fiori nella nota casa di tolleranza...' (Film of Love and Anarchy: At 10 O'clock This Morning on the Via dei Fiori in a Well-Known Bordello...). The show was nominated for the Palm d'Or at the Cannes film festival.
The naïve and literally wide-eyed Antonio Soffiantini, aka Tunin (Giancarlo Giannini) arrives at a Roman brothel and is greeted by the outspoken prostitute Salomè, (Mariangela Melato), who pretends he is her cousin. Tunin is actually an anarchist on a mission to assassinate Benito Mussolini, and Salomè's job is to keep him on task. One of her customers is Giacinto Spatoletti (Eros Pagni), an arrogant and profane egoist who is also the local head of Fascist security. After adjusting to the bawdy atmosphere of the bordello, Tunin visits the site of Mussolini's planned appearance. He then prepares for his murderous task with some target practice at a fun fair. Amore interferes with politics when Tunin falls deeply in love with Tripolina, one of the ladies of the house (Lina Polito). Salomè protests, but Tunin insists that he's committed to his mission. The starry-eyed Tripolina has other ideas.
Giancarlo Giannini makes an indelible impression in Love and Anarchy. In contrast to his slick ladies' man in Seven Beauties, his appearance here is almost clownish. Heavily freckled and sporting an unruly shock of red hair, Tunin spends much of the early part of the movie staring wide-eyed at the risqué sights in the bordello. The wafer-thin Mariangela Melato is made up with white powder to play the hyperactive, sex-obsessed chatterbox Salomè. She's just another fountain of opinion in a house of women that pass the time by exchanging professional insults.
Tunin has chosen his suicide mission as a matter of conscience. He's seeking revenge for a friend murdered by Fascists and not even the adorable Tripolina can change his mind. Salomè reveals her own radical sentiments when discussing the planned assassination. She declares that the struggle against the Fascists is a war. The film's example of a Mussolini Black Shirt is the bull-headed, boorish Spatoletti, whose conversation is limited almost exclusively to egotistical boasting and crude insults. Another emphatic sign of Fascism is the city square where Mussolini's visit will take place. The contrasting modern architecture is similar to buildings seen in Michelangelo Antonioni's L'avventura, in a 'model town' identified as dating from the Mussolini era. The idealistic but woefully underprepared Tunin and Salomè are eager to strike a blow for human values.
Lina Wertmüller's very personal films have always been a source of controversy. She was committed to a leftist social agenda, as were many popular Italian filmmakers of the time. When not making anti-Fascist statements, her films criticized class barriers. Along with Agnés Varda, Wertmüller is regarded as a leading feminist filmmaker of the 1970s. Yet Love and Anarchy's notably un-liberated bordello could have come straight from a broad sex farce. The girls enjoy their work and seem to have few problems. The spirited Madame Aïda (Pina Cei) clearly enjoys matching eager male clients with the girls in her stable of beauties. Compared to Antonio Petrangeli's sensitive and socially conscious Adua and Her Friends (1960), Wertmüller's view of prostitution does not make a feminist statement. The director's characters spout Marxist sentiments yet consistently choose instinct over ideology.
Although they don't play lovers in this blend of farce and politics, the amusing Giannini and Melato make a memorable performing pair. Love and Anarchy's final act spins toward tragedy, offering the message that political violence yields only failure and waste. One thing we learn at the conclusion is that murder plots against Benito Mussolini's life were so frequent that his security authorities hushed them up as a public relations measure. To her credit, Ms. Wertmüller does not glamorize the act of political assassination. Tunin's unfortunate victims are several innocent policemen making a health inspection of the bordello. Wertmüller would probably agree with Pier Paolo Pasolini's viewpoint on the issue. The director-poet favored the police over the student rioters in the May Strikes of 1968, stating stated that the students were from privileged economic backgrounds, while the gendarmes were working-class men just trying to earn a living.
Kino Lorber's Blu-ray of Love and Anarchy improves on grainy American release prints from 1974. Giuseppe Rotunno's glowing cinematography makes the prostitutes' vintage period make-ups part of the attractive overall production design. The sentimental music score is by Nino Rota.
The feature is presented in Italian with English subtitles. At 129 minutes, the cut offered is five minutes longer than most listings. One benefit of the Blu-ray format is that European films on video are no longer in the PAL standard, which ran 4% faster than normal: no more tinny voices and time-compressed music tracks.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Love and Anarchy Blu-ray rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.