Judge Bill Gibron was "swept away" by these two films...and the woman behind them.
A great artists unfairly marginalized…
She should have been the first. Instead of questionable genre queen Katherine Bigelow walking around with the first ever Best Director Oscar given to a woman (for her equally questionable Best Picture effort, The Hurt Locker), Lina Wertmüller should have already earned that accolade. Her spellbinding 1975 prison camp "comedy" Seven Beauties was an arthouse smash, eventually nominated for four Academy Awards, including the first ever for someone of her gender. Yes, the competition her year was fierce (somehow, John Avildsen won for Rocky, beating out such notable heavyweights as Ingmar Bergman, Alan J. Pakula, and Sidney Lumet ) but the accomplishment more or less mandated such recognition. Yet for many, her name is now a question mark, a big unknown in the world within recognizable foreign film. Now Kino Lorber is following up its brilliant box set from 2005 with Blu-ray releases of Wermuller's earlier titles. Representing the films she made before Swept Away and Beauties would turn her into an international icon, Love and Anarchy and All Screwed Up argue for one of the most amazing auteurs in all of cinema. It's time to rally around such recognition.
Facts of the Case
She was born Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmüller von Elgg Español von Braueich. As a child, she caused so much commotion that she was kicked out of several exclusive Catholic schools. When she finally decided on a trade, she headed to the theater. This lead to a friendship with icons Giancarlo Giannini and Marcello Mastroianni. Through Fellini, she became an assistant director on 8 1/2. She then made four films before The Seduction of Mimi put her on the international map. This lead to a string of significant cinematic accomplishments, ending with 1978's A Night Full of Rain.
Representing her work after Mimi and before Swept Away, the two films here follow divergent if subtlety similar narrative paths. Here is a plot synopsis for both:
Love and Anarchy
All Screwed Up
If Americans ever wonder why critics froth over films from foreign lands, the work of Lina Wertmüller would supply ample evidence. Unlike her Western counterparts, who seem locked into a desire to make movies that are commercial, the Italian maverick makes art. Even better, she uses the form she so frequently excels at as a form of commentary, a way of criticizing her country, its place in history, and the hapless manner in which the citizenry has responded to both concerns. Her films are almost always political, firebrands of free thinking and challenge, and she's not afraid to put her own philosophy and views front and center. Perhaps this is why she is not better remembered among her obvious peers (Felinni, Pasolini, Antonioni).
Another reason could be her relatively unseen output. Though she has worked steadily since her glory days in the '70s, few of her films have been seen outside Europe. She's like the cinematic version of the seminal '80s post-punk group The Jam: popular within a confined community, more or less unknown outside. Here's hoping Kino's release of some of her earlier films will fill the void left by such classics as Seven Beauties and Swept Away. Wertmüller is not an easy director to embrace, but her efforts are always loaded with lust, sex, passion, comedy, tragedy, heart, and most importantly, smarts. Her characters may appear simple and act equally slight, but the ideas behind the actions and the meaning in their motives are ripe for real import and meaning.
Take Love and Anarchy. It's really nothing more than a character study of people on the fringes. Sure, the main narrative thread—the desire to assassinate then Fascist dictator Mussolini—brings a whole new dimension to the storyline, but for the most part, we are really concentrating on Tunin and his relationship with Salomè. It's their initial coming together that give the movie its real edge, as does the addition of love triangle temptress Tripolina. Indeed, because our hero is so naive and so hellbent on living the anarchists dream, he is destined for a tragic end. But Wertmüller makes the journey more important than the finish. While we can sense where things are going, the characters and the acting keeps us guessing.
All Screwed Up, on the other hand, is all about its time and place. The Italy of the early '70s, awash in poverty and other social problems, becomes the catalyst for a tragicomedy which rarely slows from its otherwise frenzied pace. We have the lives of the desperate on display here, women who work their fingers to the bone during the day, only to ply a more personal trade once the sun goes down. Farmers become thieves, the innocent are wrongfully accused and damned. Wertmüller barely broaches beyond the recognizable stereotypes—the lothario, the hustler, the honest man, the villainous business owner—and that seems to be the point. We are supposed to see this slice of life as just that: a fictional document of her country in insular chaos. It's both generic and genuinely reflective. Yet as a building block to where she is going, both of these films are formative.
Indeed, when you include The Seduction of Mimi, you end up with a trilogy that takes us to the exact spot where Wertmüller will go from oddity to earning her famed nickname, "enfant terrible." While many in her field found a way to take the plight of the common man and turn it into some manner of universal statement on humanity, Wertmüller was the first to take her place as part of the pink neo-realism pantheon. She took risks, making sure her ideology was never lost (or overpowering, for that manner) in the movie mix. She challenged authority, vanquished the status quo, and took risks when other filmmakers fell into familiar patterns.
In Love and Anarchy and All Screwed Up, we see the Italian of the real world, a country at odds with itself and trying urgently to escape its role as both Axis ally and overly romanticized paradise. While she made masterpieces later on, Wertmüller's earlier films demand recognition. In a realm of redundant sameness, she stands fervent and fascinating.
As for the actual Blu-rays themselves, Kino clearly does the best they can with what they have, meaning that you won't be witnessing anything remotely close to Criterion when it comes to transfers or extras. Still, both films look awfully good in the HD format. Of the two, All Screwed Up seems better, if only because it avoids a couple of the issues that seem to plague Love and Anarchy. Other websites have pointed out trouble with the image, including compression and softened details. While this critic could barely notice the problem, others appear adamant over it. Otherwise, the 1.85:1/1080p presentations are colorful and relatively clean, showing their age production-wise, but not in the technical aspects of the release. As for sound, we are saddled with DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks which offer little in the way of ambience or immersion. The dialogue (in Italian with excellent English subtitles) comes across clearly while the musical scoring (by the great Nino Rota and Piero Piccioni) rarely overwhelms said conversations. As for added content, you must be happy with minor stills galleries (for both) and a trailer (for Anarchy). Frankly, an artist of Wertmüller's stature deserves better.
As iconic as her close-cropped pixie hair and oversized glasses, the films of Lina Wertmüller demand rediscovery. They are brilliant examples of a personal vision played out over equally fascinating takes on everyday Italian life. Sure, she was an artist who worked within the dichotomy of individual morality, but her baddies were never truly evil, her saints always a single half-step away from being sinners. In Love and Anarchy, we see how idealism is scuttled by simple sexuality. In All Screwed Up, even the noblest intentions lead our characters toward their own dates with impoverished destiny. Together, they paint a portrait of personal desperation so powerful and insightful that it puts others trying the same to shame. While perhaps geared toward the Wertmüller completist, Love and Anarchy and All Screwed Up do stand on their own. They are as unique and inspirational as the talented woman who made them.
Not guilty. Some great lost gems here.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice, Love And Anarchy
Perp Profile, Love And Anarchy
Studio: Kino Lorber
Distinguishing Marks, Love And Anarchy
• Photo Gallery
Scales of Justice, All Screwed Up
Perp Profile, All Screwed Up
Studio: Kino Lorber
Distinguishing Marks, All Screwed Up
• Photo Gallery
Review content copyright © 2012 Bill Gibron; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.