The Essential Lina Wertmüller
May 5 - June 1
“A giant talent that won’t be cut down to size by apprehensions of whether or not something is in good taste.” — Vincent Canby, The New York Times
“The greatest woman director since…uh…well, let’s say the woman director to put woman-directing on the map.” — Molly Haskell, Village Voice
This retrospective celebrates a director whose controversial vision of the social order and gender relations has most often been expressed through comedies as nose-thumbingly individual as they are daring, cheeky, rude, and politically uncompromising. A new digital restoration of SWEPT AWAY is a highlight of the series of seven key films, which also includes BEHIND THE WHITE GLASSES, a lively documentary on her career. The series opens on Friday, May 5, with her Oscar-nominated SEVEN BEAUTIES, followed by a reception hosted by the Italian Cultural Institute.
Flamboyance would appear to come naturally to the director/screenwriter who was born in 1928 as Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmüller Santa Maria von Elgg Spañol von Braueich, and whose great-great-grandfather, a Swiss baron, emigrated to Italy in the wake of a dueling scandal. Upper-class, yet a rebel, anti-Fascist and self-proclaimed socialist from an early age, she claimed to have been expelled from fifteen schools. The young Wertmüller turned to frequent moviegoing to counterbalance her strict Catholic education, though the movies were not her first career choice. She shocked her aristocratic Roman family by enrolling in theater school and touring with an avant-garde puppet troupe.
Fortuitously, Wertmüller’s old school chum Flora Carabella married Marcello Mastroianni, who introduced her to Federico Fellini. After more than a decade of varied work that had encompassed television, radio, theater, writing, acting, and public relations, she got her first up-close taste of working in the film world when Fellini hired her as his assistant director on 8½. The opportunity was a life-changer, and the aesthetic influence a lasting one, but Wertmüller soon took off in her own direction, first making a documentary about the making of 8½, and then utilizing her new production contacts to direct her first fiction feature THE LIZARDS (1963).
Despite favorable notice for THE LIZARDS, it was to be another ten years before Wertmüller hit her stride as a director. She then made her five best-known films, THE SEDUCTION OF MIMI, LOVE AND ANARCHY, ALL SCREWED UP, SWEPT AWAY, and SEVEN BEAUTIES, in quick succession between 1972 and 1975. Enormous international acclaim was hers following the release of SWEPT AWAY, and SEVEN BEAUTIES brought her the first-ever Oscar Best Director nomination for a woman. In the U.S., she was an arthouse darling, proclaimed by critics to be reaching the heights of Bergman and Godard.
Class struggle is the theme that Wertmüller addressed in every film, and in every case it played out as a battle of the sexes, whether on the streets of Milan, where randy rubes search for love in ALL SCREWED UP, most grotesquely in a Nazi death camp in SEVEN BEAUTIES, or in an 18th-century court in FERDINANDO AND CAROLINA. Her inspired regular casting of liquid-eyed Giancarlo Giannini as her working-class macho icon, and Mariangela Melato as the callous aristocrat, drew fire from feminists when violence-tinged relationships along patriarchal lines violated all boundaries of political correctness, as they always do in trademark fashion in Wertmüller’s films.
It was perhaps a skewed take on the novelty of Wertmüller’s status as the sole female director of world prominence at the time that led to the expectation that she also function as the standard-bearer and role model for all women. She made no apologies and rejected the assumption that films directed by a woman need express a delicate sensibility or abide by unspoken societal guidelines for her gender, whether those be traditional or newly-minted feminist. With enormous gusto for life and an outsized sense of humor, she interpreted life and society as she saw it, not as her audience might wish it to be.
— Barbara Scharres, Director of Programming
For their cooperation in presenting this series, the Gene Siskel Film Center thanks: Jonathan Hertzberg, Kino Lorber Films; and Alberta Lai, Director, Italian Cultural Institute, Chicago.
1975, Lina Wertmüller, Italy, 115 min. With Giancarlo Giannini, Fernando Rey.
“A handbook for survival, a farce, a drama of almost shattering impact…a disorderly epic, seductively beautiful to look at, as often harrowing as it is boisterously funny.” — Vincent Canby, The New York Times
Widely acclaimed as Wertmüller’s masterpiece, SEVEN BEAUTIES earned four Oscar nominations, making her the first female director ever nominated for Best Director. Raunchy, grotesque, paradoxically beautiful, and darkly, deliberately transgressive in both its pathos and its comedy, the film is the saga of an amoral punk’s passion to live at any cost, a shocking sketch of Holocaust horror, and a searing moral statement. Pasqualino (Giannini), a swaggering, cravenly macho peacock of a Neapolitan would-be gangster, thinks to defend the honor of his seven dimwit sisters with a bungled murder, putting him on the road to misfired adventures as an army deserter and a Nazi death-camp prisoner. Selling his soul for a chance at life, this sullied hero seeks to seduce the monstrous female camp warden (Shirley Stoler) in a sequence that stands as Wertmüller’s most controversial expression of the link between sex and power. In Italian, German, Neapolitan, and Spanish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
Behind The White Glasses
2015, Valerio Ruiz, Italy, 112 min.
This quirky, fun, and music-filled portrait looks at the career of director Lina Wertmüller, an artist known by her signature white-rimmed eyewear and her international hits including SEVEN BEAUTIES and LOVE AND ANARCHY. Director Ruiz, her former assistant, tells the story, from her formative stint as assistant to Federico Fellini on 8½ to the household-name status that followed in the wake of LOVE AND ANARCHY and SWEPT AWAY. Previously unseen film footage and photos spice a chronicle that includes interviews with Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato, Sophia Loren, Nastassja Kinski, Martin Scorsese, Harvey Keitel, and many more. In English and Italian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
All Screwed Up
Tutto a posto e niente in ordine
1974, Lina Wertmüller, Italy, 105 min. With Luigi Diberti, Lina Polito.
“Hilarious…exuberantly funny.” — Vincent Canby, The New York Times
“Surprisingly fresh…Wertmüller has assembled a delightful collection of particularly Italian wackies.” — Carol White, Chicago Sun-Times
A jazzy energy infuses this slapstick tale that has the air of a pop parody of a city symphony and the slapdash comedy of romance made in hell. Three grassy-green randy guys fresh from the sticks become bonded in their pursuit of female quarries whose eyes are firmly fixed on the prizes of home, hearth, and kitchen appliances. Foremost among them is pizza chef Carletto, whose timid fiancée won’t surrender her maidenhead for less than a refrigerator. Wertmüller’s acutely funny observations on the transactions of love are set against a Milan cityscape that includes striking workers in a pitched battle with police, and a surprisingly graphic slaughterhouse interlude depicted as a synchronized dance. In Italian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
Travolti da un insolito destino nell'azzurro mare d'agosto
1974, Lina Wertmüller, Italy, 116 min. With Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato.
“A feminist manifesto disguised as an extended male domination fantasy…Wertmüller delivered the first girl power picture, and it’s a stunning masterstroke of a movie.” — Bill Gibron, DVD Talk
This luscious-looking bittersweet satirical allegory represents Wertmüller’s most overt styling of class warfare as a battle of the sexes. Raffaella (Melato), the motor-mouth trophy wife of an industrialist, heaps abuse on Gennarino (Giannini), a sweaty Sicilian yacht hand, until the handsome ruffian and his imperious nemesis find themselves stranded on an uninhabited Mediterranean island where the tables are turned. The self-sufficient sailor holds the key to survival, and he subjugates his bikini-clad fellow castaway by way of a brutal yet patently slapstick course of politically tinged tough-love seduction that opened Wertmüller to a barrage of criticism from feminists. In Italian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
Please note: This trailer does not have English subtitles. Our screenings of the film will be subtitled in English.
Summer Night With Greek Profile, Almond Eyes and Scent of Basil / Notte d'estate con profilo greco, occhi a mandorla e odore di basilico
1986, Lina Wertmüller, Italy, 94 min. With Mariangela Melato, Michele Placido.
“A whimsical sense of humor and a spicy look at sex…a visually stunning piece, full of vacation-postcard shots of thrilling beaches, ocean vistas, and opulent architecture.” — Lynn Voedisch, Chicago Sun-Times
Swashbuckling style makes Wertmüller’s revisiting of the sexual dynamic of SWEPT AWAY farcical fun that also resonates in our time with its satirical approach to themes of international terrorism and the mega-rich vs. the less fortunate masses. Haughty industrialist Fulvia (Melato) kidnaps Beppe (Placido), leader of a politically motivated ring that’s been kidnapping her billionaire friends for ransom. Holding him blindfolded, chained, and scantily clad in her Venetian-style villa, Valentino-swathed Fulvia finds the bare-chested hunk too great a challenge to resist. The horizontal skirmish begins, and the balance of power between captor and captive hangs in the balance. In Italian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
The Seduction of Mimi
Mimí metallurgico ferito nell'onore
1972, Lina Wertmüller, Italy, 121 min. With Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato.
“Delectable…politics and sex are so well balanced that all the raw emotions and devastating jokes ring true.” — Nora Sayre, The New York Times
Sicilian laborer Carmelo, nicknamed Mimi (Giannini), makes the near-fatal error of voting Socialist and runs afoul of the local ruling Mafia in this dark and wacky comedy in which rivalries both political and sexual are ultimately played out in bed, as Mimi bounces from docile wife to Trotskyite mistress (Melato) to über-fertile revenge mistress, haplessly leaving assorted progeny in his wake. Cast for the first time by Wertmüller, tousle-haired soulful-eyed Giannini, soon to become her perennial icon of macho manhood, struts his stuff in an over-the-top performance. The film’s ecstatic reception at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival put the director on the road to international fame. In English and Italian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
Ferdinando and Carolina
Ferdinando e Carolina
1999, Lina Wertmüller, Italy/France, 102 min. With Sergio Assisi, Gabriella Pession.
“A wonderful, wicked comedy…think of this as AMADEUS with more amorous needs.” — Bill Gibron, DVD Talk
Set provocatively in the 18th century, this late-career period comedy dwells more on the erotic intrigues of the court of King Ferdinando of Naples than on the politics, but, in the tried and true manner of Wertmüller, they soon merge. Conveyed to his deathbed after a gastric mishap at the card table, the elderly king reflects back on life’s amorous adventures, beginning with his boyhood in the court of his father, the king of Spain. At the heart of the plot is his rocky and rollicking relationship with Carolina, the fiercely ambitious Hapsburg princess whom he weds on his third try at marriage following the deaths of her two short-lived sisters. Wertmüller delivers the goods in a wealth of lustful antics and with the bonus of a lush, gilded, historically accurate production design. In Italian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
Love and Anarchy
Film d'amore e d'anarchia, ovvero: stamattina alle 10, in via dei Fiori, nella nota casa di tolleranza...
1973, Lina Wertmüller, Italy, 120 min. With Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato.
“Executed with the high-pitched passion of a Neapolitan gothic romance and with a fluid, whirling, dazzling energy…breath-taking.” — Paul D. Zimmerman, Newsweek
A sumptuously appointed period comedy with a mournful undercurrent of tragedy, LOVE AND ANARCHY casts Giannini as Tunin, a naïve country bumpkin who hits the big city with a half-baked plan to assassinate Mussolini. Holed up in Rome’s ritziest brothel, where his co-conspirator is Salome (Melato), the house’s icy, platinum blonde number-one attraction, he falls for her sweet young fellow prostitute Tripolina (Lina Polito), whose protective love may prove his downfall. Amid an eye-popping wealth of period detail and with an appreciation for the Roman cityscape, Wertmüller lets loose with a barrage of giddy hijinks, alluring female nudity, and mad revelry, ironically underscoring the magnitude of the political folly. In Italian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
Please note: This trailer does not have English subtitles. Our screenings of the film will be subtitled in English.