Appellate Judge Tom Becker attempted to seduce Mariah Carey—and he's got the No Contact Order to prove it.
Social satire, Wertmüller-style.
Lina Wertmüller was a foreign/arthouse film director who broke into the American mainstream in the mid-'70s with a pair of unexpected hits: Swept Away (a.k.a., Swept Away…by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August) and Seven Beauties. Thanks to the latter, she became the first woman nominated for a Best Director Academy Award. Unfortunately for Wertmüller, her much-anticipated follow-up to Seven Beauties, the English-language A Night Full of Rain (a.k.a., The End of the World in Our Usual Bed in a Night Full of Rain) was so poorly received that it practically mitigated the praise heaped on her earlier work and so tarnished her reputation that she never really came back from it.
But even before Swept Away and Seven Beauties, Wertmüller had a quite a good run in the '70s, turning out sharp political and social satires. Wertmüller's frequent collaborator was actor Giancarlo Giannini. Their first international success was 1972's The Seduction of Mimi.
When Sicilian laborer Carmelo "Mimi" Mardocheo (Giannini) decides to vote against a Mafia candidate, he thinks he's safe—after all, it's a secret ballot. Unfortunately, the "secret ballot" might as well have been a billboard, and Mimi finds himself out of work and ostracized.
So he leaves Sicily for Turin, promising his frigid wife, Rosalia (Agostina Belli, 1973's Revolver), that he'll send for her.
But once in Sicily, Mimi, through a series of lucky breaks and deceptions, finds his fortunes changing for the better. Perhaps best of all, he meets Fiore (Mariangela Melato, Love and Anarchy), a fiercely independent communist activist, and the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. Soon, Mimi and Fiore are living in some kind of domestic bliss, while he makes excuses to Rosalia as to why he can't return to Sicily and she can't visit him in Turin.
But Mimi enjoys his good life a little too well and finds he has to return to Sicily after all. He does, with Fiore—and their child—in tow. Once there, he knocks himself out trying to juggle two domestic situations.
But it's an unexpected affront to his honor that really knocks him out and causes him to take actions that lead to worse complications than he could imagine.
The Seduction of Mimi is a very funny movie. It might have a serious underside, and Wertmüller might have a lot to say about politics, gender roles, power, and fate, but she never forgets that this is a comedy. I suspect had Woody Allen been living in Italy rather than pining for Sweden, The Seduction of Mimi is the kind of film he might have made, perhaps as a follow-up to Love and Death.
Wertmüller's brew is a comedy of manners, mix-ups, and socio-political mores. In Giannini, she has the perfect comedic leading man. Giannini plays Mimi almost as a commentary/parody of centuries of Mediterranean manhood, capturing every foible and idiosyncrasy perfectly, but without losing the character's humanity. Mimi might be a pigheaded, cowardly fool, but he's forthright, honorable, and appealing enough that his seduction of the lovely Fiore makes perfect sense.
The film really kicks into high gear in its third act, when Mimi is forced to return to Sicily. There, he learns that things are not quite as he left them—one thing in particular. This gives Wertmüller the opportunity to play out one of her more consistent themes: sex as currency. Wertmüller films are often marked by sex sequences that are violent, bizarre—and less about sex as an act of pleasure than about power. The Seduction of Mimi explores this in a subplot that is one of the funniest in the film—featuring a hilariously horrifying sequence—and leads to a satisfying, ironic ending.
For its release of The Seduction of Mimi (Blu-ray), Kino Lorber offers a pretty good looking 1080p image that features solid colors and acceptable detail. The Mono audio track offers a clear rendering of the dialogue. Unfortunately, supplements are limited to a brief stills gallery. Given Wertmüller's rapid rise, precipitous fall, and eventual rediscovery, and given that this was really the film that introduced her to international celebrity, you'd think at least a critical essay might be in order.
It seems strange to think of Wertmüller, who once seemed destined to take on the mantle of Fellini, as someone whose work needs rediscovery, but time has shown that to be the case.
In addition to The Seduction of Mimi, Kino Lorber has released Blu-rays of two other Wertmüller films: Love and Anarchy (also with Giannini and Melato) and All Screwed Up. Maybe down the road, we'll be seeing high-def treatments of her more famous work (Seven Beauties and Swept Away) along with some of her lesser-known films.
The Seduction of Mimi is a good place to start, Wertmüller-wise. The Blu-ray from Kino Lorber skimps in the supplement department, but it offers a solid technical presentation, plus the chance to see a once-acclaimed auteur nearing the top of her game.
The disc might be a little light, but the film is not guilty.
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