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.
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.