[Film Review] Swept Away (1974)

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English Title: Swept Away
Original Tile: Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto
Year: 1974
Country: Italy
Language: Italian, French
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama
Director/Writer: Lina Wertmüller
Music: Piero Piccioni
Cinematography: Ennio Guarnieri
Mariangela Melato
Giancarlo Giannini
Riccardo Salvino
Eros Pagni
Aldo Puglisi
Isa Danieli
Rating: 8.4/10

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Not the blamed notorious 2002 Guy Ritchie-Madonna remake, this is Lina Wertmüller’s original masterpiece, a tactfully veiled feminist treatment that removes the class barrier by marooning a snooty capitalist socialite Raffaella (Melato) and a plebeian Communist deckhand Gennarino (Gianninni), together in an uninhabited island in the middle point, and what ensues is a taming-the-shrew sex romp, that lives and dies with the island itself.

Doesn’t see eye to eye with each other prima facie, the pair wears their heart on their sleeves with a mutual despite that feels both comical and vitriolic, and Wertmüller perceptively demands Raffaella to make a meal of her airs of superiority that naturally elicits our sympathy towards the downtrodden Gennarino, piteously cussing underhandedly with a puppy-eyed scruffiness, even when the duo is left drifting afloat in a dinghy on the Mediterranean Sea (nigh Sardinian Eastern coast), the unseaworthy Raffaella has nothing else to do but whinges about Gennarino’s inadequacy.

Once they are shipwrecked in an island, Raffaella’s peccadillo comes home to roost when their roles are inevitably reversed, totally at the mercy of Gennarino’s survival skill in the nature, she has to endure numerous slaps and a rape attempt before completely submitting herself as a slave at the beck and call of her master, the almighty, proletariat Gennarino, who is confident enough that his virile masculinity can not only subjugate the vain, bourgeoise dame he finds attractive, but also make her fall in love with him (as there is no other competitions in sight), and ostensibly, that is what happens afterward, at that point, our sympathy is miraculously veered toward a docile and besotted Raffaella, a reborn woman, isn’t she?

It is facile to accuse Wertmüller of being misogynist merely on the grounds that she subjects Raffaella repeatedly to physical abuse in the hand of Gennarino, she is astute enough to wield a Teflon shield not just because she is a woman herself, thus the violence can be viewed as a self-reflexive conceit to reflect the horrible reality, but more intricately, to point up the weaker sex’s powerless physical plight is her ingenious approach to counterpoint a woman’s staggering resilience, both physically and mentally, to the point that, Gennarino, as a macho man overtly boasting his dominant nature, has no rival to overpower her in the long run on the intellectual level, because he can never see her through if he cannot treat her as an equal (if not superior). Felt both smitten and suspect by her affection, Gennarino’s fatal mistake is that he is tricked into believing Raffaella’s oscillation, thinks that he has a chance of winning that kind of true love a man could ever covet.

Therefore when they return to the civilization, instantly the upper hand is returned to the rich party, and Wertmüller brilliantly enfolds Raffaella with an even more ambiguous halo, lachrymose and lovey-dovey during the telephone scene with Gennarino, yet, it is clear as day to audience that she will never return to that God-forsaken place of her own accord, the table has been turned and she wins, but instead of strutting in front of the vanquished (as usually a man inclines to do), being a sophisticated woman, she quickly learns from her mistakes and knows a really visceral revenge is to make the vanquished perpetually guessing, fancying, and ever longing for that pipe dream, which is exactly what happens in the end, a woebegone Gennarino is again, returns to his normal life of a loveless marriage, rues the day that he was once a king bestowed with a perfect consort.

Even most of the time there are only two main characters, an Italian film can still be persistently boisterous with flying vituperation and expletives intermittently assaulting our aural sensory to the four winds, both Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini are the crèmes de la crème, tearing into the battle-of-sexes with mind-boggling conviction, incredible physical facility and top-notch comic timing, and their raucous interplay can go from high skylarking to searing drama on a moment’s notice, moreover, their distinctive personae substantially offset many unsavory traits in their characters, and altogether burnishes Wertmüller’s eloquent allegory that nails the essence of stereotyped gender roles, class disparity and human beings’ most primeval instinct. Intriguingly, the protagonist of most films and books about a sole survivor in the nature is man, which might obliquely certify that man is more of a nature animal whereas woman is a social one, ergo, it is fairly clear who occupies a higher standing in the evolution tree.

referential entries: Wertmüller’s LOVE AND ANARCHY (1973, 8.2/10); SEVEN BEAUTIES (1975, 8.5/10).

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