Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Seven Beauties (1975)

          A nasty piece of business from Italy’s provocative Lina Wertmüller, Seven Beauties tells the grotesque story of a man who survives a violent life as a pimp only to become an inmate in a World War II concentration camp. The film is so deliberately vulgar that the climax involves the protagonist struggling to summon an erection with which to service a morbidly obese prison matron, even though she’s a despicable sadist. One of the overt themes in the challenging picture is that only whores can survive life on the sidelines of a war. Given Wertmüller’s proclivity for threading leftist politics into her narratives, it’s a fair statement of sorts; her movies depict the world as a battle zone pitting the apathetic against the engaged, with her sympathies clearly favoring the engaged. Therefore, a generous reading of Seven Beauties might identify the protagonist as a representation for everything Wertmüller finds craven in society. After all, the movie begins with a weird tone poem/dedication listing various types of people: “The ones who don’t enjoy themselves even when they laugh. Oh, yeah. . . . The ones who listen to the national anthem. Oh, yeah. . . . The ones who at a certain point in their lives create a secret weapon: Christ. Oh, yeah.”
          Seven Beauties is a Grand Statement, but it’s not the easiest one to decipher.
          The movie jumps back in forth in time, juxtaposing the main character’s civilian life with his military experience. Prior to the war, Pasqualino (Giancarlo Giannini) is a sharp-dressed hustler who seems conflicted about the carnal adventures of his sisters. He carries the pejorative nickname “Seven Beauties” because each of his siblings is unattractive. Pasqualino spends lots of time yelling at his sisters for their low morals, even though he’s a criminal. In one of the film’s many tasteless sequences, the dismembering of a corpse is played for laughs. In another, Pasqualino rapes a mental patient. If you’re wondering what the point is of watching a monster like Pasqualino, I don’t have a good answer for you.
          The protagonist’s wartime experiences are gruesome. Inside the concentration camp, he watches a rotund matron (Shirley Stoler) push inmates past their physical and psychological limits, then bonds, sort of, with a poetic activist named Pedro (Fernando Rey). That character’s ultimate fate is so vile as to approach the realm of perverse comedy. As noted earlier, the crescendo of the picture involves Pasqualino trying to gain favor with the matron through sex. Throughout Seven Beauties, Wertmüller devotes as much energy to provoking revulsion as she does to showcasing ideology. The sheer number of repugnant images and situations is distracting, as is dissonance between content and style.
          Like all of Wertmüller’s movies, Seven Beauties is beautifully photographed, and the production design is impressive. Moreover, frequent Wertmüller collaborator Giannini contributes his usual impassioned work. Seven Beauties is among Wertmüller’s most acclaimed films, having garnered accolades including four Oscar nominations, so, clearly, discerning viewers found much worth examining here. To these eyes, however, the picture has not aged as well as some other Wertmüller’s efforts. Seven Beauties speaks with more confidence than clarity, though a hint of the picture’s deeper meanings might come from Rey’s character, who claims that “a man in disorder is our only hope.” Disorder is something that Seven Beauties has in abundance.

Seven Beauties: FUNKY


Peter L. Winkler said...

I found it ugly, unpleasant and completely pointless.

Lj letizia said...

The first woman to be nominated as Best Director for the Oscars.