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Blu-ray Review: The Lina Wertmüller Collection

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The films of Italian director Lina Wertmüller are blistering political satires filtered through the lens of a sex comedy — laughs and heartache coexist, but she’s not afraid to unleash a wholly downbeat denouement as the fun fades. Now available on Blu-ray are three films from an exceptionally productive period of her career — The Seduction of Mimì, Love and Anarchy and All Screwed Up — each granted a sparkling new transfer. You’re out of luck if you were hoping for much in the way of extras though.

The Seduction of MimiThe Seduction of Mimì (1972) stars Giancarlo Giannini as Mimì, a Sicilian dockworker who bristles at the influence Mafia leaders have over labor politics. As election day approaches, Mimì is assured that the ballot will be secret and he can ignore the Mafia threats to vote for their man. Unfortunately, he was misinformed, and he soon finds himself out of work.

Desperate for a job, he leaves behind his frigid wife and discovers under-the-table employment in Turin. He also discovers Fiorella (Mariangela Melato), a Communist woolworker who will actually have sex with him, and thus Mimì begins a new life, where he also inadvertently becomes a Mafia informant.

The Seduction of Mimì blends highly specific labor satire (a deep familiarity with Italian politics of the ’70s seems essential to fully enjoying this element) with broad farce, and Giannini is delightfully hapless, both in matters of politics and sex. The film’s final act, in which Mimì discovers his wife has been impregnated by another man and stages a scheme of cuckold one-upmanship feels a little disconnected from what’s come before, but it does deliver an uproarious setpiece where he beds a rather large woman.

Love and AnarchyLove & Anarchy (1973), the masterpiece of the three, reteams Giannini and Melato with Wertmüller in a film that’s occasionally blackly comic, but more often plays it straight, in an increasingly tragic tale that reaches operatic heights by its end. Giannini stars as Tunin, a farmhand who finds himself at the center of an anarchist plot to kill Benito Mussolini. He travels to Rome, where he meets up with his handler, Salomè (Melato), a prostitute who poses as his cousin.

Giannini is stunning as the perpetually melancholy Tunin, a man not even remotely cheered by an offer of free sex from Salomè and resigned to a suicide mission because he has little else to live for. But his outlook begins to change ever so slightly when he falls for Tripolina (Lina Polito), a fellow prostitute in Salomè’s brothel.

Wertmüller creates an enormously palpable sense of tension as the days tick down and the assassination attempt nears. Here, one can see her knack for orchestrating scenes of swirling, kinetic chaos at its best — a sequence detailing the hustle and bustle of the brothel on a busy day is an incredible study of motion, as is the film’s finale when Tunin struggles to come to terms with his fate.

All Screwed UpAll Screwed Up (1974) is similarly successful in its creation of dynamic, vital urban spaces. Luigi Diberti and Nino Bignamini star as Gigi and Carletto, two Southerners who travel to Milan to find work. Once there, they fall in with a group of migrant workers living in a communal home, and the episodic film offers glimpses of their various struggles, all of which deal with the massive gap between their middle-class aspirations and their daily reality.

In the midst of a social upheaval where the residents of the apartment building where the commune is located fight for much-needed repairs, Gigi and Carletto are just trying to get by. For Carletto, that means working an awful job in a sweaty kitchen while he pines for the affections of Adelina (Sara Rapisarda), a self-styled modern woman determined to stay a virgin. For Gigi, that means taking up with a group of thieves in an attempt to discover if crime really does pay.

All Screwed Up may not have the political weight of the two films that preceded it, but it’s a strong character piece, weaving interesting personal stories around the compelling theme of the vagaries of city life.

All three films have been granted 1080p high definition transfers in their original 1.85:1 aspect ratios, and the clarity and sharpness seen in each is pretty remarkable. Some speckling and hairs in the gate can be seen here and there, but each film is overwhelmingly clean. Colors are vibrant, skin tones are natural and fine detail is abundant. All Screwed Up offers a slightly softer, hazier image than the other two in spots, but it looks to be a condition of the source materials. All are granted mono soundtracks that do the job, rendering the overdubbed Italian dialogue cleanly if a little thinly.

The great transfers of these films will have to be the selling point, as extras are almost nonexistent. All three discs include tiny stills galleries, while Love and Anarchy alone gets a couple trailers.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.