Friday, December 26, 2014

A Night Full of Rain (1978)

          After achieving notoriety on the international-cinema circuit with pictures including Seven Beauties (1976), which resulted in her becoming the first woman nominated for an Oscar as Best Director, Lina Wertmüller made her first and last English-language feature, A Night Full of Rain. (Fitting her occasional proclivity for cumbersome monikers, the picture’s full title is actually The End of the World in Our Usual Bed on a Night Full of Rain.) Like much of Wertmüller’s work, the picture is overtly political, employing a romantic storyline and avant-garde flourishes to explore questions about whether people with different ideological beliefs can find interpersonal harmony.
          Wertmüller’s frequent leading man, Giancarlo Giannini, costars with Hollywood actress Candice Bergen. They portray spouses who represent opposing sides of the ’70s debate surrounding gender roles. Paolo (Giannini) is an Italian writer who lives off the largesse of relatives while trying to build a career, and Lizzy (Bergen), is his American-born wife. When the story begins, the couple have become estranged, so Wertmüller employs flashbacks—as well as commentary from the couple’s friends, who magically appear inside the couple’s apartment, like angels or ghosts—to describe the arc of Lizzy’s and Paolo’s courtship. The two met while Lizzy was traveling in Europe as a student. During a violent political demonstration, Lizzy intervened and was nearly mauled by a mob until Paolo rescued her. They subsequently embarked on a long and flirtatious argument, leading to a near-miss sexual encounter, before Lizzy returned to the U.S. Paolo followed her there and wooed her back to Italy, where they had a child together. Then tensions emanating from sociopolitical differences caused problems, because Lizzy is a liberal feminist hewing to the values of her materialistic upbringing, whereas Paolo is a chauvinistic communist.
          Wertmüller, who also wrote the picture, tackles heavy subjects passionately but clumsily, presenting stilted speeches instead of naturalistic dialogue, while also utilizing overwrought visual metaphors. For every sharp line that Wertmüller lands (“This house is just like Italy,” Bergen’s character complains, “It’s gorgeous and there’s no money to run it”), Wertmüller also drops a lead balloon (elsewhere in the picture, Bergen’s character asks, “Do you think about love as sentiment or eroticism?”). Furthermore, it’s not fun to watch Gianini incarnate a thug who mistreats his wife—in one ugly moment, Giannini’s character crows, “I rape you, but it will give you something exciting to tell your girlfriends in America!” Adding to the abrasive quality of the picture is an overly insistent jazz score by Roberto De Simone. On the plus side, Giuseppe Rotunno’s cinematography is luminous, and Wertmüller’s blending of economics and gender is provocative. As for the acting, it’s hit-and-miss, with Bergen straining to match the naturalism of her costar. Ultimately, A Night Full of Rain is more of an intellectual experience than a visceral one, so the real value of the picture is found in the discussions it inspires.

A Night Full of Rain: FUNKY

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