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Swept Away… by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August (Lina Wertmüller) 1974


    Lina Wertmüller has already ensured her place in film history by virtue of being the first female director to be nominated for an Academy Award (for 1976’s exercise in misanthropic manipulation Seven Beauties), but the politics of her movies consistently leave me cold. Swept Away…, which is considered a light trifle by Wertmüller’s standards, still manages to be fairly offensive. It tells a simple yarn about a man and a woman who are opposite in every way that are shipwrecked on a desert island, but attempts to turn their specific story into an allegory about Big Issues. Though the film is admittedly quite funny in spots, it’s at once too simple and too convoluted to truly take off. Instead of simply being a battle of the sexes, the movie introduces economic, social, racial, and political standings into the mix. While this allows the movie to be more topical than it might be if the characters were prototypically labeled as “man” and “woman”, it also creates biases that are hard to overcome. Certainly, Swept Away… is more sympathetic toward the man (Giancarlo Giannini) than the woman (Mariangela Melato), who is presented as a shrill, overbearing bitch. When the inevitable role reversal occurs, the movie never chastises him for his eagerness to dominate. I suppose the movie seemed radical when it was released in the 70’s since it was directed by a woman (imagine the waves of revulsion that would have greeted this film had a man directed it!), but wasn’t afraid to bash them, but from a modern perspective it looks self-hating and obvious.


    There’s something to be said, I suppose, for Swept Away…’s relative unpredictability, but I imagine that has more to do with its bad taste than its inventiveness. The movie’s plot doesn’t confound our expectations, really, but its crassness does. We’re thrust in the middle of a no-holds-barred screaming match for much of the film’s running time, and when it finally develops beyond that, it turns into something even more insidious. If I try to ignore this film’s wacky sexual politics, I’m able to enjoy it a bit more, though, even if sometimes it’s not funny since you can hear the gears spinning beneath the bile. Certainly, it’s an attractive film whenever it’s not shooting its cast in close-ups that makes their heads look overly bulbous. The island landscapes look appropriately desolate; though you almost wish they were completely empty, thanks to the irritating inhabitants that Wertmüller created. Though I haven’t seen it, Ivan Reitman’s Six Days Seven Nights was a Hollywood remake of this material. I would be interested to see to what degree Swept Away…’s woman beating and sexual humiliation was retained in a PG-13 remake. Also, Guy Ritchie is reportedly remaking the film again, this time as Love, Sex, Drugs, & Money, with Madonna in the Melato role (inspired casting, to be sure).  Obviously, these remakes prove that Swept Away… is a movie that speaks to people (or else it’s just high-concept enough to sell to studio-heads), but I’m certainly not one of them.


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Jeremy Heilman