Home Video Hovel- Love & Anarchy/All Screwed Up, by Kyle Anderson
When I think of great Italian film directors, I think of names like Visconti, Fellini, Antonioni, and Leone; I wouldn’t immediately think Wertmüller. Lina Wertmüller to be precise, the female Italian director with the German name who directed 23 feature films over her long career, the only one I’d heard of being 1974’s Swept Away, and only then because Guy Ritchie and Madonna made a reportedly horrendous remake in 2002. Basically what I’m saying is, she’s not particularly well known in America. Kino Lorber, in their continuing battle to put influential but lesser-known filmmakers’ work on DVD and Blu-ray, have seen fit to release several of the auteur Wertmüller’s films and it was my distinct pleasure to get to watch two of them for review.
Though made only a year apart, 1973’s Love & Anarchy and 1974’s All Screwed Up are very different types of films but both showcase Wertmüller’s apparent love for Italy, for people, and for left-wing politics. Each film is set a particular big city in Italy and makes the setting an integral part of the stories being told. Both films also discuss disillusionment of some kind of naïve ideal, whether overtly political or not. The films also show the director’s sure-handedness and skill with creating a compelling screen image, something I have to admit was surprising. These movies are very different from a lot of the Italian films I’d seen meaning Wertmüller was making her own movies and not aping anybody else, which is quite admirable. They are, like Fellini and Antonioni’s work, wholly Italian in story and expression and offer a point of view that could not be taken by anyone not in Italy at the time, giving even the historical film of the pair a very relevant social commentary.
The first of the films, Love & Anarchy, is set in pre-World War II Rome and concerns a young, freckle-faced man from rural Italy named Tunin (Giancarlo Giannini) whose friend, an anarchist plotting to kill fascist leader Benito Mussolini, has just been killed by fascist police in the days leading up to an assassination attempt. Tunin, though meek and not overtly political, takes it upon himself to carry out his friend’s mission. He travels to Rome to meet an anarchist who will house him until the deed. This anarchist happens to be Salome (Mariangela Melato), a prostitute living in a high-priced brothel full of very loud, bawdy women. She is helping because her lover was wrongly beaten to death by the fascist police and hates Mussolini with a frothing, venomous passion. Tunin knows that to kill Mussolini means that he will likely die in the process, and it’s his loyalty to his friend, his hatred of fascism, and his fear of dying that boil within him behind his wide eyes and hang-dog expression. While at the brothel, Tunin falls in love with a young prostitute named Tripolina (Lina Polito) who in turn falls for him, complicating his situation further.
I have to say, this movie really surprised me and the more I reflect on it, the more I really enjoy it. Wertmüller is able to convey fairly heavy political commentary through the guise of a love story. There is a character named Spatoletti (Eros Pagni) who is the head of Mussolini’s police whom Salome keeps busy while Tunin scouts the area where Mussolini will soon be. He’s a big, loud brute who treats women badly and drives a big motorcycle and is in character the polar opposite of the quiet, thoughtful Tunin, however through their conversations it’s clear that the two men have equal passion for their respective sides and, though Wertmüller is clearly on the side of the anarchists, she gives Spatoletti a chance to explain himself, which you don’t often get. Rome is also simply gorgeous. It’s such an old city that very little redecorating has to be done to make it look like the 1930s.
The second film, All Screwed Up, also prominently features an Italian city, but in a very different way. This film is set in contemporary Milan, Northern Italy’s hip and trendy metropolitan area and fashion hub. It concerns several people from the south of Italy who have come to Milan to work. The chief characters are country boys Gigi (Luigi Diberti) and Carletto (Nino Bignamini) who come to Milan with dreams of hitting it rich and sleeping with lots of women. Nearly immediately, they’re taken for 20,000 Lire by a con artist and can’t afford to live anywhere other than communal housing. They meet a number of colorful characters, also from the south, who start living in the hovel as well. The laughs come from their various attempts at different kinds of work and their continued attempts to get laid. Each of their attempts to be successful is foiled in a humorous, absurd fashion until they’re thoroughly disenfranchised.
This is essentially a broad sex comedy with social satire thrown in. It doesn’t make fun of the working class as much as it makes fun of people who come to the big city and don’t expect to work for a living. There’s a character they meet very early on who is a simple rural man who falls in love with a beautiful, blonde shop girl who is way out of his league. While a lot of humor could be played on how much of a bumpkin this guy is, what actually happens is he gets this girl pregnant and they have to deal with being a single income family. There are also several regional references that I didn’t really understand, including a goth-looking girl in the commune who is said to be Sicilian. And that’s the joke.
Having no previous knowledge of Lina Wertmüller or her work, I was pleasantly surprised with these films. I would highly recommend Love & Anarchy and moderately recommend All Screwed Up. I look forward to seeing what else I’ve missed from this interesting filmmaker.