Review: The Seduction of Mimi

[Originally published in Movietone News 38, January 1975]

The print of The Seduction of Mimi currently being shown in Seattle has had about 30 minutes out from it. According to a friend who saw it whole two years ago at the San Francisco Film Festival, the abridgements improve the film. I find myself wondering whether they don’t partially account for its present weaknesses, which appear mainly in its overall construction. It seemed to me, as I watched the picture, that Wertmüller habitually projected her audience’s indulgence, that she counted on our goodwill to model sinew, muscle and flesh over the bare bones that join the various parts of her otherwise well-developed corpus together. It looks as if she were trying to make a complex and ambitious film using the erosion of political and social consciousness as a serious web on whioh to weave her comic woof. But since I haven’t seen the film as she intended it to be seen, I can only speculate that the occasional failures of cohesion are less her fault than that of the New Line Cinema people who subsequently hacked out that missing half-hour.

I suspect this because Wertmüller, as a writer of discrete scenes, ordinarily has no trouble blending a number of thematic ingredients and coming up with a series of succulent frittate for our delectation. Most succulent of all, of course, are those devoted to Mimi the metalworker’s vicissitudes as a male as opposed to a man. We have seen, in such earlier pictures as Pietro Germi’s Divorce ltalian Style, how Italian culture regards the Sicilian male as a virtually Neanderthal monument of monolithic machismo, from which a great deal of wry humor can be extracted. Wertmüller’s script, which sags a bit when dealing with the Mafia and politics, fairly ripples with sureness and command when it concentrates on this area of seriocomic convention. Similarly, her direction seems more purposeful, more personally engaged, more intimately expressive in the sequences centering on Mimi the macho than it does at other moments, when she tends to lapse somewhat into formulaic direction to match her own formulaic writing. I’m thinking particularly of the zooms and closeup cuts to the Mafiosi’s triangular moles that recur throughout the picture. I don’t mean to suggest by these demurrals that Mimi has great ups and downs, but rather that it ranges between competent at its weakest and extraordinarily good at its best.

At its best, it displays sustained qualities of ironic finesse mixed intelligently and skillfully with passages of broad buffo comedy. Wertmüller’s treatment of her macho maintains a less caricatural and parodistic tone, and bespeaks a more natural and human attitude towards her protagonist, than did Germi’s towards his Cefalù; her tongue, like Germi’s, is in her cheek, all right, but she doesn’t waggle it about in there so obviously. As a matter of fact, the relative subtlety of her irony caused a young woman seated behind me at the Movie House to protest to her companion on several occasions about Mimi’s double standards, and to hope audibly that he would be found out in his duplicity. To her mind, the film’s narrator was taking Mimi’s side. Happily for her, when the director steps out of her normal ironic attitude to play it for belly laughs, she does so with equal mastery, and in these cases even the most naïve of viewers isn’t going to miss the point. For me, the film’s finest and funniest moment comes in a single shot: It opens with Mimi, about to wreak vengeance upon his wife’s seducer by impregnating that rival’s own grotesquely flaccid wife. Mimi has been watching with growing amazement and horror as the woman disrobes. As the fatal moment approaches, he cowers defenselessly in the sheets. An extreme wide-angle lens comically emphasizes the strident stress lines created by the puckered sheets screaming graphically towards Mimi’s dismayed, helpless, and lens-dwarfed head at upper right. Just as we’re starting to recover from the outrageousness of this effect, the woman’s flab-cheeked ass, distorted by that same lens into a mammoth, genuinely obscene mountain of undesirable flesh, heaves itself onto the bed and hippoes its way inexorably towards the consummation of Mimi’s revenge—and of a magnificently conceived bit of artistic comic distortion. Flaws and all, it’s a rich, warm, understanding, and delightfully barbed film.

THE SEDUCTION OF MIMI
Story, Screenplay, and Direction: Lina Wertmüller. Cinematography: Dario di Palma. Music: Piero Piccioni.
The Players: Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela, Agostina Belli, Turi Ferro, Gianfranco Barra.

Copyright © 1975 R C Dale


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