Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Summer re-runs: Seven Beauties

I was worried about seeing SEVEN BEAUTIES again ... it stunned me when I saw it in the '70s, its powerful images stayed with me - it was one of those arthouse big movies of the era (along with PADRE PADRONE, THE AMERICAN FRIEND etc), but what if I no longer liked it? I do. It is still a key Italian films of the '70s and probably Lina Wertmuller's masterpiece. Other films that try to tackle the holocaust and life in concentration camps, whether revered like SCHINDLER'S LIST or reviled like THE NIGHT PORTER, have their admirers but SEVEN BEAUTIES (1975) should be much better known. It also contains one of the great performances in all cinema - Giancarlo Giannini's Pasqualino Settebellezze (Seven Beauties). 

The seven beauties are his sisters and Pasqualino is the only man in the family so he has to defend their honour. The early scenes in a sunny Naples have a warm glow and it is bliss watching Pasqualino, a cheap hood, with his suit and hat and gun, strutting around and bossing his sisters around, and his adoring mamma.  There is also that nice girl who has her eye on him. One of his sisters though brings shame on the family as her lover makes her a prostitute so Pasqualino has to kill him .... this is all hilariously accomplised and the body despatched in 3 parcels, but Pasqualino cannot claim self-defence as his gun went off accidentally before the greasy obese hood could reach for his.  He fakes insanity, gets sent to an institution, escapes by joining the military, deserts, gets caught, and is put in a concentration camp. There, he seduces his grotesque female camp commander in order to survive. Giannini makes his character wholly believable, and his presence on-screen (in nearly every scene) keeps the story going from one plot twist to the next, he is simply everyman who will do anything to survive.

Others won't - it is still stunning seeing how Fernando Rey commits suicide after deciding he cannot stand it anymore after he rails against the Nazis, also Pasqualino has to shoot his comrade ... after the Nazi Commandant (Shirley Stoler in a mesmerising performance) makes our hero head of his unit and he has to choose 6 to be killed or else they all will. Now he really has to show how he will do anything to survive. Stoler succeeds in making him one of them. The scenes where he attracts her interest and has to try to get excited to have sex with her are stunning done. She feeds him and then he has to perform, or else ....  These scenes in the concentration camp are like a descent into hell or a universe created by Hieronymous Bosch.  Also that early scene before his capture when he and fellow deserter are in the woods wondering where they are and witness Nazis shooting people is both horrifying and captures the feelings of guilt our witnesses experience but if they intervene they will be shot too ... in the camp Stoler knows they will lose the war but she hates the Italians and continues killing them. For Pasqualino though survival is everything and he does what he has to ... but at what price? He seems dead behind the eyes in that final shot.

Finally the war is over and he has survived. He is back in sunny Naples. His mother and sisters are delighted he is home. They are all whores now of course and so is the pure girl he was attracted to. He asks if she is doing well and she says yes, so he says Good - they will now get married and start producing children, as many as possible as its going to be a grim world out there, with everyone struggling to survive. I don't want to make SEVEN BEAUTIES sound grim or depressing - it isn't, there is lots of slapstick and humour as Wertmuller paints on a broad canvas, all of life is here, its a stunning, engaging film which one will be drawn into. Not many movies today can affect me like this. See it too for Giancarlo Giannini - this performance and his role in Visconti's L'INNOCENTE (Visconti label) are among the best on film, and he has a great comic role with Vitti and Mastroianni in Scola's THE PIZZA TRIANGLE (DRAMMA DELLA GELOSIA) 1970, too long unseen. He was nominated for best actor that great year 1976 but of course it was the year of TAXI DRIVER and NETWORK ... Good too to see he is still acting. Praise too to Shirley Stoler (1929-1999) for her astonishing role here - she was also stunning in THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (1969) and also pops up in KLUTE among others.

1 comment:

  1. Michael, thank you for bringing 'Seven Beauties' to our attention for essential viewing.
    Giancarlo Giannini was outstanding in L'Innocente. An actor deserving of our respect.