It may sound like the lunch special at a Chinese restaurant, but Judge Brett Cullum believes that this remarkable comedy-drama is a film classic.
Our review of The Lina Wertmuller Collection, published October 25th, 2005, is also available.
Pasqualino Frafuso: You'll never take Pasqualino Seven-Beauties! Never
will you be able to take him alive!
Seven Beauties is the movie that put director Lina Wertmüller and leading man Giancarlo Giannini (Swept Away) on the world map. It's a daring story in which Giannini plays the foolish Pasqualino Frafuso, a petty con artist who finds himself trapped in a desperate situation. He's hardly the world's most likable guy when you consider how he treats his seven sisters. He lives off their earnings, but rides them all about the family honor. When his oldest sister becomes involved with a show-business-minded pimp, Pasqualino decides to do in the fellow. Not only does he shoot the poor guy, but he chops up his body and sends bits and pieces of him across the countryside through the mail. A court of law finds him insane, and he is duly shipped off to an asylum. There he befriends a fellow inmate, and after he is discharged he joins the Italian army. Through a train accident he finds himself in Germany, and he soon ends up at a concentration camp along with his friend. Pasqualino decides the only way to survive is to seduce the plump whip-wielding female Nazi commander who runs the camp. He succeeds in bedding her, but her mind is far blacker than he realizes. Soon she assigns him several tasks designed to destroy his character, and we find that Pasqualino never had any to begin with.
Seven Beauties was previously released as part of The Lina Wertmüller Collection, which cost close to a hundred dollars to purchase new. Now from Koch Lorber comes a stand-alone edition of the movie, which should only set you back around twenty bucks new. It is largely considered Wertmüller's best movie, and for good reason. The performances are strong, the story is raw, and her direction garnered her an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, which was a real coup for a foreign woman thirty years ago. The film encapsulates most of her themes quite well. We have the comical satire of the Italian macho male, the horror of a society at war, and the debasement of a man who sinks lower and lower to survive. The work ranks up there with the deftest pieces by Bergman, the darkest comedies of Woody Allen, and Kubrick's smartest satires. It is a masterpiece, and possibly the only Wertmüller film you ever need own if you are assembling the best works by the most accomplished directors in cinematic history. The only nagging problem with Seven Beauties: Digitally Remastered Edition is the transfer, which remains an insulting fullscreen letterboxed affair.
The film is absolutely unique, and still has no equal to compare it to. It is a disturbing mournful black comedy that packs a punch decades after its initial release. Wertmüller's direction is sublime, with incredible visual compositions combined with her unique view of the Italian male. Never will you find a more cocksure example of male brashness than the film's star, Giancarlo Giannini. He was a muse to the female director in much the same way countless starlets were to big studio directors in old Hollywood. Together the pair would make movies that neither could equal when they were apart. Though Swept Away has become the more popular title (primarily thanks to an ill-advised remake with Madonna), Seven Beauties is the much braver composition of the two. This is no simple sex farce, but rather a story of a man without any dignity thrown into a bottomless pit of debasement. And yet it sounds completely unappealing on those terms, when in reality early parts of the movie are comedic and charming. It's a disarming mix of slapstick mixed with sadism, and that sets it apart from anything I've ever seen.
The DVD is exactly the same as what you would find in the previous release of the box set, so no worries for those who acquired that purchase earlier. The film itself is an important one, and this is a vast improvement on a DVD release that preceded the set, but it still has problems in the technical department. There are six audio mixes, which run from Italian mono all the way up to English surround. The English dubs are wretched affairs that rob the movie of its native voice and are only useful as a curiosity. Of the remaining three Italian mixes I found the original mono superior to the others. The stereo and surround mixes are poor attempts to expand the aural range of the movie, and they both ring false. Mark this day in history, because it's the first time I've advised anyone to stick with mono. I wish I could say the visual transfer is better. It's a fullscreen affair with those black bars to crop it in to widescreen. What year is this? Seven Beauties: Digitally Remastered Edition comes in fullscreen with letterboxing? It's a real crime when you consider that other Wertmüller releases have nice anamorphic widescreen transfers, but this her masterpiece gets the shaft. Somebody needs to take the whip to the people at Koch Lorber and make them realize what a puzzling crime they have committed. At least the image is somewhat clear. Colors and clarity are good, although some black levels are off early in the film. Scratches and grain are minor. Included with the disc containing the feature is a second DVD, which features a 78-minute interview with the director as well as trailers for most of her films. It is the exact same supplemental disc found in the box set. Nice of them to include it with this film.
Despite its technical shortcomings, Seven Beauties: Digitally Remastered Edition is an important release to add to any collection that is currently missing The Lina Wertmüller Box Set. At the very least, you get the director's masterwork as well as an in-depth interview with her at a reasonable price. But don't impressive films deserve impressive treatment? I'm always shocked when I see a landmark piece of cinema get a downright inept transfer. This product should only appeal to cineastes or people with a passion for film, and it's an insult to the importance of Wertmüller's work and those that appreciate it to give it this kind of treatment. Still, you'll never find another film like Seven Beauties, and it's worth owning in any form.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
• Bonus Disc with Interview with Lina Wertmüller
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