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Most Beautiful Wife
When Don Antonino Stella (Amerigo Tot) is detained by the police his long time rivals see an opportunity that must be seized. But Vito Juvara (Alessio Orano), a man loyal to the Don, has something else in mind - he won't allow outsiders to take over what belongs to the old man. Vito is also determined to follow the sound advice the Don has given him - find a beautiful woman, if possible a poor one, settle down, and wait for his return.
From all the women in the city Vito lands his eyes on Francesca (Ornella Muti) a beautiful but shy Italian girl that sees another man. Vito approaches Francesca and quickly arranges what the Don has advised – a wedding. Surprisingly, Francesca rejects Vito in front of his comrades.
Based on the true story of Franca Viola, a Sicilian girl who was kidnapped and brutally raped by a group of local mobsters in 1965, La Mogille Pui Bella a.k.a The Most Beautiful Woman (1970) is a low budget production that is mostly remembered amongst film aficionados for launching the acting career of Italian megastar Ornella Muti. Legendary director Damiano Damiani (Il Sorriso del Grande Tentatore a.k.a The Devil is a Woman) took a chance with the dark-haired beauty and only nine years later Ornella Muti was amongst the most recognized names in Italian cinema which even those behind the iron curtain could not stop talking about (much of the strong Eastern European following was due to Grigori Chukhrai's memorable La Vita a Bella).
In Italy Damiani's tenth film created a ripple-effect amongst critics and filmgoers. The harsh social tone of The Most Beautiful Wife as well as its bold message spurred a number of discussions addressing women's rights and their place in society. For the first time in many years Italian feminist organizations enjoyed the publicity they had previously sought.
Nowadays however in the eyes of many American viewers The Most Beautiful Wife will hardly appear as the controversial story many Italians saw in the early 1970s. I suppose it would be fare to conclude that time has left its mark on Damiani's work and for the most part one is likely to notice its effects quite easily: during key scenes the dialog is a bit unpolished, the camera work is rather static, the director's desire to make a statement too strong.
Finally, The Most Beautiful Wife remains a film with flawed construction. The (social) melodrama, typical for Italian productions from the period, seems to be clouding the actions of the main protagonists as they often use cliché lines to separate right from wrong (female abuse being the focal point here). Still Damiani's approach remains impressively effective in its critique of traditional Italian themes: family, loyalty, commitment.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's the film appears to have been properly converted and flagged for progressive-scan which will surely delight owners of high-end set ups. Colors are vivid and well reproduced, contrast very good, edge enhancement tolerable, and print damage non-existent. Furthermore, detail is quite impressive, most certainly for a film this old, and it clearly shows that some substantial restoration must have gone into the production of this DVD. To sum it all up this appears to be yet another quality produced DVD by No Shame Films for which I have no complains.
How Does the DVD Sound?
There are two different tracks provided for this release: the original Italian DD 2.0 track and an English DD 2.0 dub. Now, I have a few things to report here regarding the Italian track which appears to be suffering from some mild "cracking" here and there (certainly a heavier noise reduction should have been applied) and irregularity in balance. These issues appear to be easily avoidable-the digital noise is most probably a sub-product of the Italian master used for the R1 release and I do not think there is much that No Shame could have done to offset its effect(s). As far as I am concerned this may very well be something that even the Italian distributors could not have eliminated as I have noticed similar issues on quite a few R2 Italian discs in my collection.
As is their practice now No Shame Films have provided the original theatrical trailer for the film and a very large piece titled " Sicily, Ornella, and the Mafia and Beyond" which features contribution by director Damiano Damiani, assistant director Mino Ciarda, editor Antonio Siciliano, actor Alession Orano, and director of photography Franco di Giacomo. What each of the participants in this piece contributes are thoughts and recollections about the film, its impact on the Italian society, and what it meant for each of them to be associated with it. This is indeed a very informative extra that sheds plenty of light on this controversial Italian film and for American viewers I suppose will be an essential viewing. Finally, there is the mandatory lovely booklet with essays by regular contributor Richard Harland Smith highlighting Damiano Damiani's and Ornella Muti's careers as important facts surrounding the release of this film.
For quite some time now I have been hoping that No Shame Films will provide the US market with some (why not all) of Damiano Damiani's works. I am delighted to report that once again what I have in my hands is a great DVD worthy of anyone's collection. My only gripe-I hope that our favorite No Shame continue using the original Italian film posters as they DVD cover work and avoid new (and cheap) designs. Your DVDs are classier when offered with vintage Italian artwork.