Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Women of 1975: Mariangela Melato

Mariangela Melato in "Swept Away"

Grade: ****

Whichever language Lina Wertmüller's "Swept Away" gets dubbed in there's no mistaking it for anything other than an Italian film. As much as it remains an often scathing critique on the country's cosmopolitans of the sixties, its lensing is almost grievous for that period of obsolete cinematic luxury; and luxury itself forms a grubby surfeit for depicting how different members of society truly feed off of one other. The story of an upper class woman and a fisherman stranded on a desert island, in one way "Swept Away" is a parable and romance for the ages; in others it's a crushing indictment of society's rigid compartmentalism, and its members' failure to fully commit to an unknown.

Mariangela Melato's Raffaela is a fiery vixen of a woman: a right wing monster, a ruthless, power-hungry socialite, a sexual inferno -- and so her journey from riches to emotional tatters and primordial back-to-basics is a sensational arc to behold. That's partly a result of the film's canny knack for political commentary, but Melato's unflinching charisma and passion soar. As a woman who has spent the first half of the film being horrendous, her about-turn feels convincing in the context of Raffaela and Gennarino's tempestuous relationship, the extremity of which underlines Melato's feat here as a major one. While being 'swept away' is seen as a weakness and a downfall, Melato helps to telegraph the revelation that a challenge to the human instinct is as stimulating as a roll around in the sand; and that ain't easy, folks.

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