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Learning More of Famous 20th Century Comedic Director Lina Wertmuller

Part 6 Lina Wertmuller

The Italian Tribune continues to offer our Italian cinema series featuring our favorite classics that we hope you will enjoy viewing at home this summer. As most of the films featured in this series are presented in the Italian language with English subtitles, we suggest viewing them with a study of the language in mind – it’s a great way to brush up on (or even to begin to learn) the romance language of our ancestors. Most of the films on our list are available through On Demand, Netflix and Amazon. This week, we feature director Lina Wertmuller and recommend three of her exceptionally funny and smart films.

Comedic director Lina Wertmuller could always be counted on for insightful and hilarious treatments of politics, society and sexual themes, which rebelled against Italian social norms of the late 20th century.

The Italian-born Wertmuller, whose real name is Felice Assunta Job Wertmuller von Elgg Spanol von Braueich, was always rebellious. The descendant of Swiss aristocrats and the daughter of a lawyer with whom she always quarreled, Wertmuller was thrown out of 15 educational institutions before attending a theater school. It was there that she met Federico Fellini who offered her a production position on the film “8 1/2.”  This led to Fellini funding Wertmuller’s first two films, “The Lizard” in 1963 and “Let’s Talk About Men” in 1965.

However, after money for a third film was difficult to attain, Wertmuller took a hiatus from directing. It was during this time she developed a friendship with actor Giancarlo Giannini. Wertmuller began to cast Giannini in all of her films, including “Seduction of Mimi” (1972), “Love and Anarchy” (1973), “All Screwed Up” (1974), “Swept Away” (1974) and “Seven Beauties” (1976).

“Seduction of Mimi” is a hilarious political and sexual farce. A Sicilian laborer named Mimi (Giannini) refuses to support a local Mafia candidate in an election and as a result relocates to Torino. When Mimi returns home he finds his wife (Mariangela Melato) pregnant with the child by another man.  Vowing revenge, Mimi attempts to impregnate the wife of the man who slept with his wife. This leads to Mimi being wrongly accused of the murder of this man, which sets up even more comic surprises. This film won Wertmuller an award for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972.

Melato and Giannini come together again in “Swept Away.” On a tropical cruise, Raffaella (Melato) is a wealthy capitalist who shouts orders. Raffaella becomes very confrontational with a deck hand named Gennarino (Giannini) who harbors contempt for her. One night, Raffaella makes Gennarino take her for a swim but the two drift out to sea and find a deserted island. The two then engage in a power struggle fueled by sexual tension and the basic need for survival. This leads to a love affair in which they contemplate whether they want to be rescued at all. “Swept Away” is an allegorical love story as it is a timeless tale of class distinction, sexual hostility and gender politics. A few years ago, Madonna attempted the revival of this classic Italian movie with the son of Giancarlo Giannini. Although the younger Giannini was quite seductive and attractive, the movie was a failure.

“Seven Beauties” is a satire telling the story of Pasqualino (Giannini), a small time crook who lives in Naples with his mother and seven sisters. When Pasqualino’s older sister is persuaded to become a prostitute by her lover, Pasqualino defends the honor of his family by killing his sister’s lover.  After pleading insanity, Pasqualino is sent to an asylum in which his bad behavior sends him to prison. To stay alive he offers sexual favors to a female butch German commander.

A brazen Italian woman director, Wertmuller was not afraid to use sexual comedy as her signature style which is not found in any other film. Be sure to check out her other classics that will also keep you laughing at ‘inappropriate’ situations and happenings.