Tag Archives: italian film

Goodbye, Furio Scarpelli

Furio Scarpelli, the prolific screenwriter of (raunchy, fearless) Italian comedies, died on Wednesday. He was 90.

Scarpelli had a hand in an unbelievable number of films (imdb counts 141), the best and most historically significant of which belonged to the “Commedia all’italiana” movement of the late fifties and early sixties. For director Pietro Germi, (arguably) the unofficial leader of the brigade, he wrote Seduced and Abandoned, which I am certain is one of the greatest film comedies ever made, Italian or otherwise. It tells the story of Don Vincenzo Ascalone (played with outrageous fervor by Saro Urzi), the patriarch of a fairly well off Italian family. He’s a simple man, a proud man, and wants only respectability for his family, so he facilitates the engagement of one of his daughters to a promising young man. Then that young man sleeps with Don Vincenzo’s other daughter (the pretty daughter), impregnates her, and skips town, thereby compromising not only the family honor, but the possibility that Vincenzo’s pretty daughter will ever marry again. So Vincenzo, who now hates this boy, goes off to find him and make him marry his daughter, who also hates him. That’s act I.

Because it is as ridiculous as it is emotionally plausible, this is a sensational premise for a comedy. The “Commedia all’italiana” filmmakers understood, quite profoundly, that an emotion pushed to it’s extreme can be very, very funny, but also deeply problematic. Without moralizing, Scarpelli’s story gets to the heart of this very Italian dilemma: hot-bloodedness, like honor, is both the making and undoing of modern Italy, as much an obsolete, feudal ethic as it is a noble tradition that must be upheld. Seduced and Abandoned plays with this paradox like a feral cat toying with a mouse.

It’s the best kind of satire. Excise the specifics of Italian politics and society, and you still have airtight motivations, fabulous set pieces, and the kind of tempestuous extravagance everyone finds amusing, whether they can relate to it or not (see the film’s trailer above – even without subtitles it’s funny). It’s no wonder that Furio Scarpelli began (like Fellini) as a cartoonist.

As much as I love Seduced and Abandoned, I shouldn’t close without mentioning two of Scarpelli’s other great creations, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (written with three others) and Mafioso, which also fits squarely in “Commedia all’italiana,” and by virtue of its title, needs no introduction. But I’ll say this: imagine The Godfather if Michael were more invested in keeping Kay in the dark about his family than inheriting the Corleone mantle. Again, it’s the best kind of satire. Take Mafioso out of Italy and the point still comes across: Every family is a mafia. Bring your fiancée home to dinner and pray the weapons stay in their holsters.

Furio Scarpelli.

Share

Advertisements

How to Tilda

How can you convince an audience that Tilda Swinton is capable of living a sedentary life?

You can’t. That’s one of the problems with I Am Love, the enterprising and enterprisingly twee new film from director Luca Guadagnino. It’s a family saga in the Visconti style, and Guadagnino bows very low to Rocco and His Brothers, The Leopard, Ludwig, and Death in Venice (Marisa Berenson even appears in a few scenes – pretty smart, I thought), but the rest is soft-focusy hullaballoo, middling Merchant-Ivory in disguise. Rich matriarch “discovers” herself. Sex in fields. Closeups of glistening strawberries.

Which brings me back to where I started. Tilda Swinton can’t “discover” herself. Her look is too alien, her eyes too curious, and her sexuality too diaphanous. All that spells the opposite of bourgeois dispassion, which is the angle I Am Love is trying to take. It’s difficult to imagine a woman of Swinton’s rabid strangeness – somewhere between a maiden out of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and the Geico Gecko – as a Dalloway type coming to her sexual senses. Babe Paley’s look, which Guadagnino should have gone for, speaks to the patrician multitudes of ladies who lunch with their orange Fendi bags and brittle bones of Christofle. A face like Swinton’s speaks to a life like no one’s.

You’ve got to give Guadagnino credit for casting way against type. Or Swinton credit for casting Guadagnino. As one of the film’s producers, she surely saw I Am Love as an opportunity to broaden her range beyond “personality” parts, and with the right director, I’m sure she could have pulled it off, but Guadagnino, unfortunately, is more interested in things than acting. Food, for instance, draws a majority of his attention. Curtains come second, and nature third. Oh, nature! How it makes the blood run warmish!

If you want to see slow motion bees, or a woman’s hand brushing through a sward of wheat, this is the film for you. But not for me. I always get nervous when actors get D.H. Lawrencey. All that passionate abandon in all those fields and someone is bound to get a rash, no? Only Ken Russell seems to get that even the most stimulated couple has to lay down a pocket square or two. But not Guadagnino. He loves art too much.

For all of his allusions to the master, this is a misreading of Visconti. The Leopard may be a production designer’s sogno bagnato, but all that linen and drapery is a part of the realism, just a backdrop. But Guadagnino sees it as content, placing I Am Love farther from Luchino Visconti, and closer to the Tom Ford school of cinema. Pretty is one thing, but I Am Love is so tra-la, it makes Elvira Madigan look like Mean Streets.

Share