A small and fiery figure, hidden behind her inseparable white glasses, who has managed to prove how the communicative power of the image is infinite and how the art of the grotesque is, on many occasions, the only means to better explain our chaotic society.
Lina was born in Rome in 1929 to Maria Santamaria-Maurizio and Federico Wertmüller von Elgg Espanol von Brauchich with the name Arcangela Felice Assunta (one of those names that seems to have jumped right out of one of her films). From an early age she cultivated a rebellious and non-conformist nature that would be essential/indespensable for her career in the world of cinema. It is in fact among the school desks that she befriends the actress Flora Carabella who will play an important role in her future. Thanks to Flora Carabella’s marriage to the actor Marcello Mastroianni, she suggested that the young Lina be assistant director in what is considered one of the masterpieces of Italian cinema: “8 1/2”, directed by Federico Fellini. Fellini himself, in 1963, helped his young protégé in making her first work, “I Basilischi” (The Lizards) (a film whose themes and style, owes much to “I Vitelloni”, a wonderful work by Fellini in 1953). This first film leads off the extraordinary adventure of a unique filmmaker.
Here we wanted to collect 5 of her most precious gems. Starting with the film that boasts the record for longest title in Wertmüller’s filmography (and perhaps in the history of cinema): “Un fatto di sangue nel comune di Siculiana fra due uomini per causa di una vedova. Si sospettano moventi politici. Amore-Morte-Shimmy. Lugano belle. Tarantelle. Tarallucci e vino” (1978). One of the many peculiarities that can be found in the filmmaker’s works is in the extreme length of her titles. The colossal scale of the latter forced the producers to reduce the title for Italian distribution to “Fatto di Sangue fra due uomini per causa di una vedova. Si sospettano moventi politici”. And for the American market to the even shorter “Blood Feud “. Lyrical, evocative and with tones of Greek tragedy, the film boasts a triumvirate of formidable actors. Marcello Mastroianni, Giancarlo Giannini and Sophia Loren (made unattractive for the part as a manual worker). It’s a brilliant love triangle that on one hand is highly dramatic, and on the other appears hopelessly comical.
The story of three star-crossed unlucky lovers’ melds with the stereotypes of the underworld and of honor in 1922 Sicily. It is orchestrated and analyzed in an astonishing way by a director at the top of her game. Thanks to her usual over the top staging, she faces an already seen film theme and conveys it in a completely new and surprising way in addition to creating an anthology of the grotesque in the final scene.
We cannot but mention the immense: “Mimi metallurgico ferito nell’onore” (The Seduction of Mimi, 1972), monumental with a capital M to the interpretative power of Giancarlo Giannini, a very close collaborator to the director and appearing in most of her films. It was shown at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival. This work is a masterpiece of rhythm and speed.
One example is the phantom sequence in which the wife confesses her betrayal to Mimì and he, delirious, pounces on her a slave to an extraordinarily spectacular hysteria. The entire film hinges on the actors’ precise interpretations, all of them absolutely in the part and very mindful to keeping up with the dizzying rhythms of the staging.
The film that represents Lina’s greatest commercial success: “Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto” (Swept away, 1974), where she engages Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato, the most popular and happiest duo of Italian cinema in the past seventy years. They become the two lead characters to perfection. What comes out is an ironic, overwhelming and acute game of annihilation that exposes the never-ending fight between the sexes. The study that the film makes of the roles of victim and executioner is one of the most lucid in the history of cinema. In addition to analyzing the relationship between male and female, the film studies the profound cultural separation between north and south Italy, passing from one extreme to the other and perpetually jesting with black irony on the edge of the ravine.
A “Pasqualino Settebellezze” (Seven Beauties, 1975), which many critics identify as her undisputed masterpiece. For her work on the film Lina Wertmüller became the first woman in history to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Director. The director creates an enormous affresco of an era and of the human condition of a ridiculous man who slowly becomes a monster. It is one of the most grotesque and moving portraits of our cinema. It’s probably her most heart breaking and difficult film that saturates the slow flow of a decadent and corrupt environment as the soul of the protagonist becomes more and more corrupt. The design of war and human wickedness is melancholy and crepuscular. The film was a huge success both in Italy and abroad and made Wertmüller known to worldwide audiences. At the Oscars, in addition to the Best Director nomination, she also was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Award, the Best Original Screenplay and the well-deserved Best Actor nomination for the outstanding performance by Giancarlo Giannini.
Wertmüller’s masterwork, the film that most embodies its aesthetics and its way of communicating through images is “Film d’amore e d’anarchia: ovvero stamattina alle 10 in Via dei Fiori nelle nota casa di tolleranza… ” (Love and Anarchy, 1973). What is accomplished here is truly incredible because the historical reality mixes with fantasy creating a film in a universal language that points straight to the heart of the viewer in a blaze of emotions, music and colors. An anarchic, neurotic, frenetic and rebellious film that, through its bright and passionate tones, gives the beholder a visceral experience. The film was at Cannes in 1973, the jury, with actress Ingrid Bergman as Jury President, awarded the prize for best male performance to Giancarlo Giannini, who in turn out does himself in the part of the freckled and romantic rebel. With this wonder the geographical map with which the director analyzes and decomposes Italy from film to film continues to expand, and affirms her love for our country.