Puzzling over Wertmüller

I wrote earlier this week about Udo Kier’s eyes; it seems to me after watching Swept Away (dir. Lina Wertmüller, 1975) that Giancarlo Giannini’s are just as worthy of comment.  Giannini does some of his funniest acting with his eyes in this film, over which I’m still mulling.  (Part of me is trying to figure out what to make of the fact that both Swept Away and Blood for Dracula make their Marxist characters into misogynists and rapists.)  Thirty-six years old, Swept Away still has the power to shock, and its politics are made all the more confounding if we try (as many critics no doubt have) to place Wertmüller as a feminist filmmaker.  I’m all in favor of thinking of her in those terms, probably because it has always seemed to me that the most interesting feminist artists are those who have given us truly unexpected representations of women, the kinds of characters we don’t know what to think about or what to do with—and we certainly don’t know what to do with Rafaella (Mariangela Melato), a crass, bratty bourgeoise who finds herself dominated-and-loving-it by vindictive underling Gennarino (Giannini).  The film is one that you end up turning over and over in your mind endlessly, because Wertmüller keeps making us reverse our allegiances with the characters, both of whom are, somehow, simultaneously repellant and sympathetic.  This is finally the value of Swept Away—its refusal to spoon-feed us a nicely blended satire of Italian social politics. (I also truly dug the opening-credits music, an almost-parody of '70s smooth jazz which I can't seem to get out of my head.)  

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