I final noticed Lina Wertmüller on the stage of the Buñuel auditorium on the Cannes movie competition in 2019, surrounded by cheering followers: a tiny, fiercely alert and beaming determine in her early 90s. She was there as a result of Pasqualino Settebellezze, or Seven Beauties (1975), her unusual, serio-comic masterpiece was being proven; this famously made her the primary girl to be nominated for an Academy Award as finest director.
Seven Beauties is an absurdist anti-war satire, starring her favorite main man Giancarlo Giannini – a roguishly good-looking however unsettling presence who was to her films, maybe, what Marcello Mastroianni was to Federico Fellini, and Wertmüller began out as assistant to Fellini. Fellini was her mentor and buddy, and he or she, in flip, was his lifelong passionate admirer as a artistic life drive – and but it was arguably Wertmüller who had extra mordant and subversive issues to say concerning the postwar Italian soul.
Seven Beauties, for which she wrote the unique screenplay, is one thing to be in comparison with Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum. Giannini performs Pasqualino Frafuso, a idiot – although not an harmless or a holy one – who’s to disclose himself as an egotist, a coward and even a rapist as he careens throughout the strife-torn panorama of the second world warfare, motivated by a pompous macho concern for safeguarding the supposed honour of his seven sisters, who’re removed from bellezze in any sense. Pasqualino will get despatched to an insane asylum for killing the pimp with whom one sister has taken up (and dismembering the physique and despatching the parts throughout Italy in suitcases) however is lastly launched to serve within the military – wherein capability he’s despatched to a Nazi focus camp the place he grotesquely makes an attempt to seduce the feminine commandant and is made to endure horrifying ordeals which resemble a bad-taste horror panto model of Sophie’s Alternative. When he lastly returns residence to Naples, he naturally finds that each one seven of his sisters and his mom have succumbed to precisely that dishonour which horrified him within the first place.
It’s a cliche to speak about basic films (or books or TV exhibits) that couldn’t get made now, however for Seven Beauties there isn’t any set off warning sufficiently big. Wertmüller shows a colossal daring in her movie’s unsentimentality, its seediness, its cynicism, its calculated shock and offence, its incorrectness and black-comic tonal wrongness. It sprang from the identical temper as Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter (1974) or Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe (1973). There’s a streak of vinegary nastiness within the movie, to go together with its mad picaresque vitality, which speaks satirically to the nausea of Italian fascism.
Earlier than that, Wertmüller had began out together with her indulgent however participating darkish comedy T The Lizards (1963), which had as its premise a Fellini-esque bunch of men craving to flee their residence city within the south of Italy, fantastically written and carried out. The Seduction of Mimi (1972) – unique title: Mimi the Metalworker Honourably Wounded – set the picaresque and sexual tone that was to be developed in Seven Beauties; the grisly trope of sexual assault and the spectacle of guffawing homophobia. Giancarlo Giannini is Mimi, a employee fired for his supposed communist sympathies, whose roving eye leads him to be concerned in mob violence and official corruption.
Love and Anarchy (1973) additionally blended political satire with intercourse to create chaos: Giannini is an anarchist plotting to homicide Mussolini earlier than the second world warfare. Swept Away (1974) was a broad comedy-satire-drama a few rich girl stranded on a desert island with one in all her misplaced boat’s crew, performed as ever by Giannini; the conflict of their respective capitalist and communist beliefs turns into a sexual spark. (This was heart-sinkingly remade in 2002 by Man Ritchie, starring Madonna and Adriano Giannini – son of Giancarlo.)
By the point Wertmüller made The Blue-Collar Worker and the Hairdresser in a Whirl of Sex and Politics in 1996, her concepts and elegance had been verging on self-parody. However her dynamism and her unflagging curiosity within the absurdity of intercourse and male sexuality – and her fierce political scepticism – made her an exciting live-wire in European cinema.