Swept Away – Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto (Lina Wertmüller – 1974)
Summertime and the living is easy…so why not enjoy a summer masterpiece from Lina Wertmüller who started her career as an assistant director in Fellini’s 1962 film 81/2? The film, is by no means your typical summer movie, weaves together issues of sex, politics, male-female, poor-rich, relationships into comedy turned drama.
Swept away by an unusual destiny in the blue sea of August is the full title in Italian. A typical Wertmüller whimsical film-naming style that also got her a Guinness record for another film with 179 characters! Quite long, but it perfectly captures the essence of the sweeping and unexpected dramatic change that occurs in otherwise serene, picture-perfect summer vacation.
Aboard a yacht gliding in the crystal deep blue waters of the Mediterranean, a party of rich people is enjoying the good life. Raffaella (Mariangela Melato), the rich and beautiful lady from the north is driving everybody crazy with her ongoing politics vitriol and her constant bossing around the scruffy Sicilian Gennarino (Giancarlo Giannini), the crewman. If she’s not complaining about the overcooked pasta, the stale coffee she’s demanding poor Gennarino to change his shirt more often when serving her. Pazienza (patience) utters Gennarino after every humiliation as he reluctantly accepts his role.
The chairs are turned when Gennarino and Raffaella are shipwrecked on an inhabited island as Rafellea realizes she needs Gennarino in order to survive. This relationship transformation includes a few violent scenes that Gennarino unleashes to express ages of exploitation done by everything, in his mind Raffaella and the rich represent.
Some critiques found this bold expression of women subjugation over the top; others complimented the courage of the director – especially as a woman – to deal with such delicate gender issues with no shortcuts.
I don’t like it either, but I believe this usage of radicality is important because it effectively demonstrates the long road it takes to bring these two world-apart strangers from the realm of the impossible on the yacht to the realm of the possible, yielding a moving love story on the island.
The premise of the film is simple. Within society’s boundaries roles and class differences are clearly defined. However once you place these complete opposite characters outside their comfort zones, these rules don’t apply anymore. Instead it brings out the opportunity to get closer and learn more about our common humanity.
Yet, would that transformation happen if Raffaella were able to take care of herself on the island without Gennarino’s help? My guess is yes. At the end of the day, no matter how materially satiated we are, we all need the human connection.