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.
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.