The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced yesterday that they were awarding Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmuller an honorary Oscar. She deserves an Oscar for sure — but honorary? She deserves one for a body of great work.
Wertmuller’s best known features (here in America) include “The Seduction of Mimi”, “Swept Away”, “Love & Anarchy” and “Seven Beauties”. Sex and politics figure into every Wertmuller movie. So does the male notion of “honor”. And absurdity — because male honor is frequently absurd.
In “The Seduction of Mimi”, a factory worker played by Giancarlo Giannini (Wertmuller’s go-to male lead for her best work) learns his beautiful wife’s been knocked up by another man. To defend his honor, the factory worker decides to seduce the other man’s wife. Problem is, she’s incredibly unhappy with her life and incredibly obese — not exactly an object of seduction. But, hey — honor’s honor. He does it and gains nothing but more heartache.
Giannini’s Pasqualino — his character in Seven Beauties — is even more compelled by honor. It’s WWII and Italy’s in chaos, stuck between Germany to the north and the Allies to the south, slowly battling their way up the boot. Pasqualino has seven sisters — the “Seven Beauties”. Being the sole male in the family, it’s his responsibility to guard their honor.
That’s a problem because one of the beauties is a prostitute. Pasqualino kills her pimp. The scene where Pasqualino — needing the cut the body into pieces so he can put the pieces in suitcases and dispose of them — is a comedic gem. The pimp is not a small man and even moving the body around to facilitate cutting it up is challenging — made worse by the fact that the pimp’s dead body keeps farting.
Pasquelino gets caught and sentenced to prison; he gets out of that by volunteering for the army (which is pretty much in a state of constant retreat from the Allies). When Pasquelino tries to run, he gets captured by the Germans and sent to a brutal concentration camp run by a brutal female Commandant played by Shirley Stoler.
Among the other prisoners at the camp is an Anarchist played by Fernando Rey. The Anarchist is the movie’s moral center.
Pasquelino decides that the only way he’ll survive the camp is by ingratiating himself with the Commandant — via seduction.
THAT scene also is a comedic gem. The Commandant knows exactly what “the macaroni” as she calls him is doing. She lets him.
For his efforts, he will get “rank” and “privilege” among the prisoners. But there will be requirements, too. Terrible ones.
The first? Pasquelino must personally execute his best friend there at the camp. Survival is everything to Pasquelino — and he does it. He executes his friend.
That’s enough for the Anarchist. He kills himself by deliberately drowning in the camp’s sewer trench. “Better the shit than this!”
Yeah — there’s a line in the sand. Cross it and you’ve lost your “soul” (whatever you perceive it to be). Whatever integrity you had is gone. Gone, gone, GONE.
If ever a movie spoke to our times, it’s “Seven Beauties”. The Republican Party pissed away every last drop of honor it ever had. It seduced Evil even as Evil was seducing IT.
Think about the country Republicans are hell bent on turning America into. It’s America circa 1850. With Russian overtones.
Lina Wertmuller’s Anarchist got it exactly right — “Better the shit than that!”