Seven Beauties: The Films of Lina Wertmüller


“Lina Wertmüller, the brilliant Italian director ... has become one of the major film talents of our day.”

“Lina Wertmüller is the most important director since Ingmar Bergman!”

Known for her bawdy, boisterous satirical forays into the minefields of sex, politics, and social class, Lina Wertmüller (b. 1928 in Rome) was an art-house sensation, and just about the world’s most prominent female director, in the 1970s. Her films, provocative, parodic, and often decidedly un-PC — or, at least, too savage in their irony and iconoclasm to fit easily into simple political boxes — were often highly contentious; Swept Away (1974), later remade by Guy Ritchie and Madonna, and Seven Beauties (1975), typically cited as Wertmüller’s masterpiece, in particular — and particularly for feminists.

Wertmüller was the first woman to be nominated for the Academy Award Oscar for best director (there have only been three others since — Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, and Kathryn Bigelow). Her exuberantly entertaining, visually rich films have a tragicomic sensibility that has been likened to Chaplin’s; a flair for the carnivalesque reminiscent of Fellini’s (Wertmüller apprenticed on Fellini’s ); and an abiding interest in the politics of power and its complicated tangle with sex. In the neorealist tradition, her protagonists tend to be ordinary people struggling against those in authority or against larger systemic forces. These ordinary souls are frequently disadvantaged individuals from Italy’s southern regions; Wertmüller’s films often dramatize the conflict between the country’s less affluent south and its more affluent north. Giancarlo Giannini, a sad-eyed actor with a decidedly Chaplinesque mien, was Wertmüller’s favourite leading man, and is the performer most associated with her cinema (along with Mariangela Melato, Giannini’s female foil in several films).

“Together, Wertmüller’s 1970s films are a sustained bravura work of cinema that engages the senses and organically addresses ideology.”

The film historian Peter Bondanella, in his seminal Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present, argued that the controversy aroused by Wertmüller’s unruly films, the “crucial confusion” over their intentions, was due to “an ignorance” of their cultural background — that the director was combining her political concerns with “the conventions of traditional Italian grotesque comedy, with its vulgarity, its stock characters, and its frontal attack upon accepted values and mores.”

Wertmüller’s films enjoyed such popularity in the ’70s (of Italy’s directors, only Fellini and Bertolucci received comparable acclaim, Bondanella notes) that it is hard to credit that they are so little-known today. The restoration and re-release of seven of her films, including five key works from her peak period, may begin to remedy that neglect — and may perhaps ignite more debate about the methods and motives of this radically polemical, resolutely independent artist. Our retrospective also includes a new documentary about the filmmaker and her work.



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Recent Showings

NEW RESTORATION! Lina Wertmüller’s magnum opus is an audacious, still-shocking tragicomedy about survival at all costs during WWII.
NEW RESTORATION! Wertmüller's fifth feature, a raunchy sex-and-politics comedy, brought the writer-director to international attention.
VANCOUVER PREMIERE! Polarizing Italian auteur and eyewear icon Lina Wertmüller is the subject of this affectionate, easygoing documentary profile.
NEW RESTORATION! Class warfare becomes a wild battle of the sexes in Lina Wertmüller’s much-argued-about satirical comedy-drama.
NEW RESTORATION! Wertmüller’s first art-house hit on North American soil was this boisterous, biting, bosoms-a-plenty tale of political espionage.
NEW RESTORATION! Wertmüller offers a flamboyant mélange of sex and politics in this sprawling, satirical tragicomedy set in Milan.
NEW RESTORATION! Wertmüller returned to form in the mid-1980s with this bawdy, completely-brazen battle-of-the-sexes comedy.
NEW RESTORATION! Sex, politics, and Italian history commingle in Lina Wertmüller’s lavish (and lecherous) late-career costume comedy.