Somehow, this isn't the sort of romantic Sicily that Judge Dennis Prince was expecting.
Seduction of the innocent. Derision of the defiled. Obstruction of the truth. Is it just another Italian comedy? Well, not exactly.
"The man has the right to ask. The woman has the duty to refuse."
Facts of the Case
Tender 15-year-old Agnese Ascalone (Stefania Sandrelli, Alfredo, Alfredo) finds herself in a confessional, laying bare the facts of her unintended sexual promiscuity. Was it her fault, though, that her sister's fiancée, Peppino (Aldo Puglisi, Segreti de stato) found his way into her company one lazy summer afternoon while her father, Don Vincenzo (Saro Urzi, The Godfather), snored away elsewhere in the house? Maybe not but now that it has happened and now that father has found out, the family honor is at stake if ever this were to leak out to the townspeople. Agnese is underage, unwed, and is unimaginably "with child" thanks to the lecherous assault by Peppino. Don Vincenzo responds with expected furor yet unleashes his physical outburst upon Agnese, the "whore" that has marred the family name. Upon collecting his thoughts and working fast to settle the matter before it can leak out to all of Sicily, Vincenzo says the only dutiful thing for his should-be-estranged future son-in-law to do is to marry Agnese rather than the intended Matilde (Paola Biggio). With unwavering temerity, Peppino refuses given the fact that Agnese is no longer of proper social eligibility, what with having already been with a man prior to matrimony. How indecent, after all. From here, the events only get more dizzying as the outcast Agnese prays while her father plays every card up his sleeve to salvage his reputation amid a town of eager onlookers.
While this raucous revealing of the Sicilian society's underbelly may seem to have many axes to grind against it's Italian sensibility, it's clear that Germi was fueled by a central outrage: at the time, Italian civil code allowed a rapist to be fully and satisfactorily exonerated provided he simply marry the woman he assaulted.
How clean and tidy, yes?
Germi was obviously indignant over this and used Seduced and Abandoned as his pictorial pulpit. Clearly, he did smooth over some of the shock of young Agnese's encounter with Peppino by suggesting a somewhat consensual engagement between the two. And if that makes such a sordid tryst more palatable, acceptance is quickly torn away by the mere facts that 1) Peppino is betrothed to marry Agnese's sister, 2) Agnese is clearly underage, and 3) that the defiling takes place within the family home during siesta. No doubt, Germi's quarrel shifts back and forth between a barbaric local legal code and remorseless cads that would exploit them for personal pleasure.
While Seduced and Abandoned is sharply funny and break-neck paced, many times you'll catch yourself shaking your head at the blatant indiscretions that underlie every comic turn and twist. Even the slightest bit of applied analysis reveals the social and moral despondency at play throughout the picture. This isn't to say it's not worthy of a laugh, but with today's sensitivities at play, it can sometimes be a bit of an uncomfortable giggle. If you've seen Germi's preceding Divorce, Italian Style (Divorzio all'italiana), you'll find this film applies an even darker undertone to the madness that unravels on the screen.
For Germi fans, Criterion's release of Seduced and Abandoned allowed the hopeful, who had anxiously held their breath after being delighted with the earlier issue of Divorce, Italian Style, to exhale at last. To say that Germi's film followers would have been disappointed had Criterion not released this film would be a severe understatement; the comedic prowess of this follow-up picture rivals the sardonic wit of its predecessor and to have one without the other would be akin to missing a shoe. But the pair has been completed here in this excellent release, the sort we've come to expect from Criterion.
Beginning with the transfer itself, you'll be pleased to find a near blemish-free black-and-white image. Presented in the rarely seen picture boxed format, the film is framed in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The source material was obviously quite well preserved although there is a bit of occasional film dirt that slips by. Even so, thanks to excellent contrast and smooth black levels, this release delivers a great looking picture that can stand proudly in any classic film library. As for the audio, you'll find the original Italian soundtrack presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix. While that may sound somewhat under-whelming, it's a strong track that delivers both dialogue and score in a well-balanced manner with any audio deterioration typical to a film this age skillfully excised for the duration. Nicely done.
Criterion steps up again in the extras department by delivering a very watchable featurette, Commedia all'italiana, Germi Style. In this 25-minute excursion, we meet up with screenwriters Furio Scarpelli and Luciano Vincenzoni as the two, in current-day interviews, relay their experiences and perceptions of the cynically comedic Germi. With an obvious reverence, they note the bravado and social responsibility Germi embodied as he leveled his sights at the preposterous elements of Italian society. Also along for the discussion is Italian film scholar Mario Setsi, who providescomments on the impact of the picture in the context of 1964 Italy.
The bonus features continue with a 2002 interview of actress Sandrelli who, within the 6-minute conversation, offers anecdotes about working on the film and acting under the precise directorial hand of Germi. You'll also see an original screen test of the actress, a silent bit of footage but over which Sandrelli provides comments about her preparation for the role.
There's another interview on board, that of Lando Buzzanca who played the Agneses' brother, Antonio, and who provides additional anecdotes and perspective on Germi's style. The extras are wrapped up with a theatrical trailer for the film as well as an insightful essay written by film scholar Irene Bignardi (this is found in the in-case booklet).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Certainly there is plenty for women and those sympathetic to their plight in such matters to become enraged at the social absurdity and misplaced accountability on display here. While it is a comedy and should be enjoyed as such, there's simply no glossing over the indignant nature of Peppino and Vincenzo here. And, given the manner in which Germi presents this upside-down narrative, he'd certainly to be pleased if the picture still riled up a viewer or two.
In a time of simple romantic comedies that roll off our consciousness in their monotony, Seduced and Abandoned is a 43-year-old relic that is more poignant than ever. If you enjoy a farce that has plenty of social injustice to sink its teeth into, you'll enjoy this one.
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Scales of Justice
• Featurette: "Commedia all'Italiana: Germi Style"
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