Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Swept Away (Lina Wertmüller, 1974)

You may not know this about me, but I tend to get obsessive, particularly over actresses. [pauses for laughter to stop] My latest obsession has been previous NGoN entrant, Mariangela Melato. Her portrayal of General Kala in Flash Gordon has stayed with me since 1980, and now, thanks to the internet, I get to see more of her work. I only watched Swept Away (aka Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’Agosto) because of her presence. It is hardly the only reason for you to watch it, if you are so inclined. This is the story of humankind's capacity for brutality. Sure, it is a romance of sorts, and a story of class warfare, and survival on a desert island, but those things are the paint, not the painting.

Melato plays Raffaella, a rich woman who is notorious among the Mediterranean's pleasure boat sailors as a ball-buster. She is very right-wing and snobbish. Giancarlo Giannini is Gennarino, a communist sailor who takes an instant disliking to her. The two are constatnly at odd while on the boat. Raffaella wakes up very late in the day, and her friends have taken a boat to shore. She wants to join them, and Gennarino is assigned to take her. He does, despite his argument that it is too late in the day to go safely. As fate would have it, the motor to their small boat dies, and they are lost at sea for some time before coming across a small, uninhabited island.

Once they land, Gennarino takes charge. He is able to catch fish, and finds the only building on the island (a small hermit's shack, I believe). Previously the film had been a philosophical slapstick. Arguing and fighting with very stereotypical portrayals of Italians; Giannini bugging his eyes comically, and Melato playing the rich-bitch to the hilt. The island changes all that. Gennarino, under the auspices revenge for the working class, makes Raffaella his slave. He torments her emotionally an physically, bending her to his will. He demands that she treat him as a god. Raffaella does his bidding, and seems to genuinely fall in love with him. Obviously, they get off the island, but I shan't spoil the entire story for you.

Mariangea Melato is fantastic in this film. The switch from comedy to tragedy is handled brilliantly, and she is very capable of expressing a great deal without words. She is strikingly beautiful, even at her most disheveled. She gives Raffaella this wonderful little mannerism that makes her so annoying. It is so subtle, yet so noticeable. Giannini is wonderful as the rather despicable Gennarino. He plays the clown and the brute well, and is also a great face actor. When he falls in love with Raffaella, you see it in his look. It is a rather brilliant piece of acting.

While this is a rather hard film to watch, it is excellent.


The Angry Lurker said...

I take it this is the original before Guy Ritchie and Madonna butchered it with a remake of sorts.

Darius Whiteplume said...

It is, and while I love Ritchie and Madonna, I understand that the remake completely bastardized the story.

The Angry Lurker said...

Never knew it was based on an original,recently on another blog there was a bit on Flash Gordon and the discussion came up about their favorite woman came up, I was the only one who mentioned General Kala,everyone else went for Dale Arden and Princess Aura.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I always liked Kala. Later, she reminded me of Evil-Lyn from the He-Man cartoons. :-D

As for the other two; Princess Aura > Dale Arden (though Dale is a bit of a bad ass)

Tommy Salami said...

I saw this in the '80s and never recognized General Kala! Giancarlo Giannini is great as usual. It's a funny little microcosm of class warfare and how they feed and depend off each other. It's hard to watch because you start seeing them as people, but I like Wertmuller's message.

Darius Whiteplume said...

It's a little hard to tell, since she's just a face with Cher's most elaborate outfit on throughout Flash Gordon. ;-)

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