Bold, political, and satirical, the ’70s movies of Italian director Lina Wertmüller can be thrilling from an intellectual perspective, challenging the viewer with philosophical and socioeconomic ideas that are presented with overwhelming passion. When Wertmüller’s stuff clicks, watching her movies is like listening to an inspired orator hold forth on something crucially important. The flip side is that when Wertmüller’s stuff doesn’t click, a screaming headache is never far behind. Take, for example, The Seduction of Mimi, in which nearly every sentence and visual flourish is delivered with either an actual exclamation point or a metaphorical one. Combined with the repulsive behavior patterns of the film’s protagonist, Wertmüller’s histrionic presentation makes The Seduction of Mimi a chore to watch, even though the film is executed with the director’s usual imagination and skill.
Wertmüller’s go-to leading man, Giancarlo Giannini, stars as Carmelo, a small-town laborer known colloquially by his nickname, “Mimi.” In what Wertmüller presumably envisioned as a major comic flourish, Mimi is asked to vote for a Mafia-backed candidate in a rigged election, but then votes for the candidate he actually wants—a radical Communist—because he was promised the ballots were secret. When the truth comes out, Mimi becomes a target for Mafia reprisal, so he skips town, leaving his wife behind. Relocating to a big city, Mimi falls for a radical activist and visits her day after day until she succumbs to his charms. They move in together and she becomes pregnant, but then Mimi gets word that he must return to his hometown and see his estranged wife. The gist, apparently, is to explore complex intersections of female empowerment, male identity, personal responsibility, and political idealism—because amid all of the political stuff, a major subplot emerges once Mimi discovers that his wife was unfaithful. Never mind the fact that he abandoned her, and never mind the fact that he started a family with another woman. The climax of the picture involves an enraged Mimi trying to murder his wife because of the “shame” she has brought upon him.
Maybe it’s an Italian thing, and maybe it’s a political thing, but this plot element doesn’t translate well, because Mimi comes across as a Neanderthal with monstrous double standards. As to whether this unpleasant turn diminishes the validity of the film’s political elements, I plead ignorance. It could well be that Wertmüller threaded the narrative needle in some way I’m not sophisticated enough to perceive, forming a sly satire of one political ideology versus another through the prism of male/female friction. All I know is that while I was watching The Seduction of Mimi, I didn’t care that I felt like I was missing something because I wanted the characters to stop screaming at each other. Oh, well. In an unlikely turn of events, this picture was adapted for American audiences, becoming the underwhelming Richard Pryor comedy Which Way Is Up? (1977).
The Seduction of Mimi: FUNKY