Sunday, August 7, 2016

Swept Away (1974)

          On a surface level, Swept Away (or, as the longer formal title goes, Swept Away . . . by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August) is likely the most accessible film that politically charged Italian director Lina Wertmüller ever made. The plot is simple, and the polemics are easy to unpack because most of the film comprises arguments between the same two characters, one of whom represents capitalism and the other communism. Yet in some ways, Swept Away is as challenging and problematic as Wertmüller’s other work. The movie is way too long, with lots of screen time chewed up by repetitive screaming matches, and the gender politics are a hot mess. At one point, the male protagonist exclaims, “Bitch, you’re more beautiful when I hit you.” Even worse, a man successfully woos the female antagonist by raping her. Let it never be said that male filmmakers have a monopoly on demeaning iconography.
          Set in and around a rocky island in the Mediterranean, the story begins with a small yacht cruising through perfect waters for a relaxing getaway. The trip was commissioned by Pavone (Riccardo Salvino), whose wife, Raffaella (Mariangela Melato), is a narcissistic harpy. Lean and tan, with a shapely figure and bleach-blonde hair, she’s glamorous but insufferable, perpetually complaining about the servants on the yacht. Gennarino (Giancarlo Giannini) receives most of her invective. A proud communist, he perceives Raffaella as the epitome of ugly elitism. One day, she rises late and demands that Gennarino take her to a swimming cove in a small dinghy. Predictably, they’re separated from the yacht, tossed about by a storm, and stranded on an island. Circumstances allow Gennarino to change his social status by demanding that Raffaella serve him. Her screechy resistance hardens his resolve, illustrating how repression foments rebellion, until he becomes as great a monster as his companion. He beats Raffaella, taunts her diminished position, and finally rapes her.
          All of this is as unpleasant to watch as it sounds, even though the cinematography is quite beautiful, as are the locations. Also keeping Swept Away basically tolerable are flashes of humor. Yet Swept Away is far too cruel to click as a battle-of-the-sexes farce. After all, both major characters are horrible people. This makes it nearly impossible to care what happens to them, thereby sapping energy from Wertmüller’s twisted attempt at a love story. Swept Away is interesting from a political perspective, not so much from a human perspective. Nonetheless, frequent Wertmüller leading man Giannini sells his outlandish role with charisma and intensity. Nearly three decades later, pop singer and occasional actress Madonna remade this movie with her then-husband, director Guy Ritchie. Even with Giannini’s son, Adriano, assuming his father’s old role, Swept Away (2002) bombed.

Swept Away: FUNKY

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