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Lina Wertmüller

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.

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Review: Love and Anarchy

[Originally published in slightly different form in Movietone News 40, April 1975]

In Love and Anarchy, Lina Wertmüller incorporates many things Fellinian—Rotunno’s gorgeous camerawork, Rota’s characteristic harmonies, thematic tidbits such as grotesques-made-lovable, prostitutes making music and selling their wares, and even an aging female character who pitiably begs her audience to respect her past stardom as an “artiste” (remember Mademoiselle Fifi in the harem sequence of 8 1/2)—but the director’s purpose could hardly differ more from Fellini’s; one has only to watch Amarcord and then Love and Anarchy to understand how many worlds apart two narrative voices with similar stylistic articulations can be.

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Out of Season: The 19th International San Francisco Film Festival – Take 2

[Originally published in Movietone News 46, December 1975]

Mine has been a sheltered existence: I never attended a film festival before. And as a matter of fact I attended only four days of this one. But four more disillusioning and dispiriting days I don’t expect, or want, to experience for quite a while, thank you.

It was bad enough knowing that the Joseph L. Mankiewicz tribute, The Romantic Englishwoman, Les Ordres, Black Moon, the Michael Caine tribute, Conversation Piece, the Louis Malle tribute, Chronicle of the Years of Embers, and Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August—to list them in approximate sequence of anticipatory enthusiasm—would take place before teaching and Film Society commitments permitted us to wing south. The remainder of the program was dominated by unknown and hence unanticipatible quantities, save only for the latest film by the director of The Hireling (which we most wanted to see), a three-hour Soviet WW2 epic by Bondarchuk (which we least wanted to see), a new French film starring Jeanne Moreau (which closed the festival and which, because of return-flight connections, we knew we couldn’t see), and tributes to Gene Hackman, Jane Fonda, and Stanley Donen. Of these last, Hackman and Fonda were two eminently admirable people whose work and ever-emergent identities are so much a part of the contemporary cinematic experience that any summary tribute to either seemed a little inappropriate; but I was perfectly prepared to admit that some tribute designer might very well be able to put the consistently likable creations of director Donen into clearer perspective for me, and besides, the general interruptedness of his career in the late Sixties and early Seventies tended to redouble the justification for a festival salute now that that career seems to be off and running once more. And of course, a film festival is a film festival (isn’t it?), and who knew which of those untried films and filmmakers might be the L’avventura or Viridiana, the Godard or Jancsó, of 1975?

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Out of Season: The 19th International San Francisco Film Festival – Take 1

[Originally published in Movietone News 46, December 1975]

Beforehand, the 19th San Francisco Film Festival looked less than scintillating. The parts of it that I was able to see were, by most accounts, the best parts, and if that’s so, then the first impression was not entirely wrong. The 1975 edition of the festival wasn’t bad, but … I’m not sure that there were any absolutely first-rate films in the 12-day program. For me, Joseph Losey’s The Romantic Englishwoman, Louis Malle’s Black Moon, and Self Service, a Bruno Bozzetto cartoon, came closest. Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August got a much warmer reception than I thought it really deserved (the word-of-mouth consensus seemed to be that this was the Festival’s high point). And Luchino Visconti’s Conversation Piece got a much cooler reception than I thought it deserved, but—given the nature of the film—that was not too surprising.

For me personally, the proceedings were made especially memorable by the presence of J Joseph Mankiewicz as well as by the various contributions of Louis Malle. The Festival’s tribute to Mankiewicz (a string of film clips followed by a lengthy question-and-answer session) ranks with the best of the tributes I’ve seen in other years at San Francisco. And Malle, who made no fewer than three appearances before the public and press, left his mark via both Black Moon and his charmingly perceptive remarks about his own work and others’. But one sign of the Festival’s disappointingly middlebrow direction is that other Festival honorees included Jack Lemmon, Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Gene Hackman, and Steven Spielberg—all or most of whom are worthy figures, but none of whom has reached a point where a retrospective might really mean something. Lemmon, of course, comes closest to an exception. But Hackman, for example, has been in films for only a little over a decade and Spielberg, as everybody knows, would still be wet behind the ears were he not so precociously “successful.” (Just for the record, Lemmon “in person” is very like the man we know from the movies, while Caine “in person” is quite another fellow altogether.)

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DVD/Blu-ray: ‘All Screwed Up’

The reputation of Lina Wertmüller, the first female filmmaker to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, rose in the seventies with a series of energetic, brassy social satires that divided international film critics, and it declined almost as quickly as it ascended. She spoofs social politics, cultural clichés, class conflict, and the battle of the sexes in films that play like live action political cartoons. In the seventies film culture of serious political and social commentary and cinematic statements, she approached her subjects with a more slapstick approach, offering broadly drawn characters, comically exaggerated situations, and points made in punchlines rather than political debate.

On the job

All Screwed Up (1974), Wertmüller’s fifth feature film, is not exactly an exception but it is different in some defining ways. Where most of her films are built on vivid personalities (usually played by Giancarlo Giannini), this is an ensemble piece with multiple characters and stories. The cast is filled by young, mostly unknown performers and the script is not driven by plot or even character, but rather a series of snapshots of life in Milan as experienced by new arrivals, freshly arrived to the big industrial city from the rural south and hustling to find their place in the new world of opportunity. It’s a social portrait via a series of sketches, many of them comic, with an eye-opening perspective on working life and urban culture in seventies Italy.

Carletto (Nino Bignamini) and Gigi (Luigi Diberti) are country boys who arrive in Milan with their belongings tied up in makeshift luggage, wearing clothes and agape expressions that mark them as rubes in the big city. They run into a kindred spirit, a big-eyed country girl named Adelina (Sara Rapisarda) in tears after her cousin fails to meet her at the train station, and eventually they all move in together with a group of more urbanized women in a big, dumpy penthouse apartment in an old, run down tenement building in the middle of the city, a slice of the rural world surrounded by modern high rise apartments. It’s a “commune of workers,” explains Biki (Giuliana Calandra), the entrepreneur behind the money-saving plan, but this is less a co-operative than an investment for Biki and her friends, who charge the rest of the boarders for everything from coffee to laundry to TV privileges. They are capitalists with a la carte pricing for their working-class boarders.

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Blu-ray/DVD: ‘The Seduction of Mimi’

The Mimi of Lina Wertmüller’s The Seduction of Mimi (1972) is not a woman but the nickname of a working class Sicilian man, and his seduction is not sexual, or at least not entirely sexual. The full Italian title of the film translates to “Mimi the metalworker, wounded in honor,” which more accurately frames the odyssey of Mimi, the macho manual laborer who makes a show of individualism even as he systematically compromises himself.

Giancarlo Giannini

Wertmüller’s third feature film (and her third collaboration with Giancarlo Giannini, who starred in two of her TV productions), The Seduction of Mimi made her name internationally and established Giannini as the defining presence of Italian masculine identity in her satires. He plays big-talking union man and quarry worker Carmelo “Mimi” Mardocheo, a swaggering peasant living in a loud, overcrowded house with a Catholic wife (Agostina Belli) who refuses to make love to him. When he defies the local boss and votes his conscience rather than the mafia’s man, it costs him his job when the secret ballot turns out to be not so secret. With no prospects and little reason to remain home, he heads out of sunny Sicily to foggy industrial Turin, where he bluffs his way into the mob’s good graces and the bed of garrulous Communist activist Fiorella “Fiore” Meneghini (Mariangela Melato). She doesn’t care that he’s married as long as he doesn’t sleep with his wife. “With me, it’s all or nothing,” she explains, a motto that could just as easily be applied to his wary affiliation with the mob, which gets more complicated when he stumbles into the middle of a gangland assassination. He owes not just his job but his very life to the mafia, adding an urgency to his increasing obligation to the organization that is at odds with his political commitment.

The Seduction of Mimi is the first of seven features Wertmüller made with Giannini, a collaboration that later earned him a Best Actor prize at Cannes and an Oscar nomination, and the first of four films she made with Mariangela Melato. The three of them reunited in Love and Anarchy and Swept Away. This is the film that launched her career in Italy and her international fame. Decades later, her sociopolitical broadsides are hardly revolutionary, but they are spirited and entertaining.

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