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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Swept Away (Blu-ray)
Swept Away (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // September 12, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted September 21, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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Swept Away -- a title drastically shortened from the original Italian name, Swept Away...by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August -- is an incredible tightrope act of a movie. It balances not just on the obvious line in the sand between the conflicting philosophies or ideologies of its equally volatile main characters, but also exhibits an incredible tonal control that feels as if it invites the viewer to view acts of physical and psychological violence and sexual abuse with an unsual objectivity. Writer/director Lina Wertmuller provokes without aggression, creating a space for the viewer to engage with reprehensible people and behaviors without feeling repulsed or infuriated.

On a yacht in a beautiful part of the Mediterranean, Rafaella Pavone Lanzetti (Mariangela Melato) and her husband, Signor Pavone Lanzetti (Ricardo Salvino) are vacationing with a group of friends. Rafaella spends most of her time loudly arguing about politics with a communist guest (Eros Pagni). Rafaella's fervent opposition and derision toward communism infuriates one of the deckhands, Gennarino Carunchio (Giancarlo Giannini), who starts out gritting his teeth but ultimately gets drawn into Rafaella's crosshairs. She mistreats him constantly, perhaps on purpose, while he fumes about her excess, her wealth, her arrogance. One day, she wakes up late and demands to reconnect with the rest of the group, who have gone off somewhere in a dinghy. She enlists Gennarino to pilot a second dinghy, but the motor breaks down and the two become lost at sea with each other, and eventually end up stranded on a desert island. Without the comforts of luxury, the balance of power shifts, and Gennarino takes ruthless advantage.

On the surface, the obvious commentary that arises once Rafaella and Gennarino are on the island is that their politics reverse themselves. Rafaella, the rich and comfy capitalist, is forced by Gennarino to work for food while he relaxes. Despite the obvious hypocrisy, Gennarino has no qualms about degrading Rafaella in the same way that she degraded him when they were on the boat. In fact, he is far more hateful toward her than she ever was to him -- she complained about the food, about his smell, about his prying eyes (a valid complaint, given we see him spying on Rafaella and her friends sunbathing topless), but he beats her repeatedly and degrades her directly. Wertmuller places these indignities after 40 straight minutes of Rafaella being obnoxious, self-centered, and rude, slyly setting up some sympathy for Gennarino in advance. His abuses are disgusting, but Wertmuller guides the viewer to a place where they're comfortable with the idea that she's wronging him before introducing his true cruelty.

Digging a little deeper, complex sexual jealousy arises. In a wild sequence peppered with physical and sexual assault and the constant threat of rape, Gennarino tears Rafaella's clothes off and pins her on the beach, verbally haranguing her until she admits her sexual desire for him...then refuses to sleep with her. Over the next couple of scenes, it becomes clear that both have fetishized the other's lifestyle in some way. Gennarino is obsessed with the notion of indulgent orgies where the rich indulge in depraved sexual abandon, while Rafaella gets off on being desired by Gennarino while simultaneously rejecting him. She takes sexual pleasure from viewing him as beneath her, class-wise, while also denying her own attraction to him for the same reason.

Wertmuller refrains from framing either of the characters' actions as right or wrong, although the viewer will no doubt decide for themselves. Still, there's something oddly non-confrontational about her approach. When Gennarino is at his most brutal, she pulls the camera back, away from the violence, softening it. She finds beauty in ugly actions, on a gorgeous island in an emerald sea. She gives both of their anger an equal footing, examining the expressions on her performers' faces, even as we think of their own complicity in the actions that led them there. The tone of the film is almost always light, even comedic during early scenes, before the characters get stranded. Wertmuller's subtle shift may be that the understanding of action is not an explanation or an excuse, but more of an exploration. Rafaella and Gennarino are perpetrator and victim in equal measure. The ending may hint at where Wertmuller's sympathies lie (one might guess that Rafaella herself gets an objective view of Gennarino when they return to society, or perhaps in his insistence on returning to society at all), but Swept Away's power comes less from the unsatisfying notion of even-handedness, but the pursuit of a wider clarity.

The Blu-ray
Kino is releasing four of Wertmuller's films in upgraded Blu-ray editions and all four of them feature the same art style, which is a backdrop featuring a single, bold color, with a stylized "dot matrix printer" image from the film on the front. The back cover has no imagery at all, just a block of text (some of it angled for no reason at all). The one-disc release comes in a Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is a booklet inside featuring writing from filmmaker Allison Anders and Grace Russo Bullard.

The Video and Audio
Kino's restored 1.85:1 1080p AVC presentation of Swept Away looks fantastic on Blu-ray. Although there is a minor amount of print damage, the fine detail that comes through even with Wertmuller's intentionally soft or gauzy cinematography is extremely impressive, with depth and dimension that occasionally hides the movie's age. Grain is healthy and appears properly compressed, and colors appear accurate even if the greenish water occasionally creates a concern of teal and orange push (just a phantom sensation). Occasionally, the quality of the film stock varies a bit, lessening detail and thickening grain, but these are clearly source issues. The sound, a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, is not quite as impressive, given the film is a dub, resulting in pretty clear separation between the music and dialogue without much fanfare, but that's to be expected. English subtitles are also included.

The Extras
A few extras are included. First up, there is an audio commentary by Valerio Ruiz, director of a Lina Wertmuller documentary called Behind the White Glasses. Unsurprisngly, Ruiz is very well-informed about the history of the film and he provides plenty of insight into Wertmuller's filmmaking techniques, her aesthetic, and information specifically about the making of Swept Away, including the dubbing of Eros Pagni. Well worth a listen for fans of the movie desperate for some insight on the movie after mulling over its complexities.

There are two video extras as well. The good one is an interview with filmmaker Amy Heckerling (8:45), who tells an interesting story about a friend that leads into her frustration with people who misinterpret the movie and what it has to say about men and women. The other is an excerpt (10:01) from Ruiz's Behind the White Glasses, which unsurprisingly touches on some of the same details as her audio commentary, while also featuring archival footage of the stars and some additional interviews, including one from Martin Scorsese. Worth a look, but personally, it feels like a bit of a waste to watch a clip rather than just seeking out the full documentary.

Two original theatrical trailers, one in Italian and the other in English (featuring a title other than Swept Away, are also included, as are trailers for Summer Night, Love & Anarchy, the Lina Wertmuller Film Series, and Behind the White Glasses.

Swept Away is a polarizing film, but in this critic's eyes, an oddly gentle one. Although it depicts actions of violence and ugliness, they are filtered through a vision that mutes those actions in order to examine them. Kino Lorber's Blu-ray features an excellent presentation and a fine host of extras. Highly recommended.

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