Forget Christian Grey and his fifty shades, if you want to watch a sadomasochistic love story that really cooks, look no further than Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away (1974, not to be confused with the 2002 remake of the same name). Not only is the film better written, better acted, and better directed than the Fifty Shades films; the Mediterranean landscapes provide more pleasurable backgrounds for the action.
The film concerns the passive aggressive (and aggressive-aggressive) battles between the upper and lower classes, between the culture of Northern and Southern Italy, and between men and women. During a pleasure cruise on the Mediterranean, Raffaella (Mariangela Melato) the shrewish, opinionated wife of a rich Northern Italian industrialist, berates the crew of the yacht and treats them like slaves. She especially pushes the buttons of Gennarino (Giancarlo Giannini), an an uncouth, grumbling, poor, Southern Italian, communist sailer. When the “rich bitch” (Gennarino’s words, not mine) oversleeps, she insists that Gennarino take her out in a dinghy to meet the rest of her party. Along the way, the motor breaks down, and the couple are shipwrecked on a deserted island. Away from civilization, the power dynamics shift, and Raffaella becomes the love slave of Gennarino.
There are parts of the role reversal and sexual power plays that are uncomfortable to watch; and at the time of the original release, many critics accused Wertmüller of having made an anti-feminist screed. Certainly, the sexist attitudes and physical aggressiveness displayed by Gennarino are about as far from politically correct as one can go; but in no way does that mean that Wertmüller, a fiercly independent woman, agreed with those attitudes and actions. It is questionable as to whether the character of Gennarino even believes what he is saying half of the time, as opposed to simply blustering to preserve new-found power.
Wertmüller’s film is about struggle — between classes, sexes, and nature versus civilization — and it is a movie about ideas, including the question as to whether humans are slaves to the expectations of society. First and foremost, though, it is a dark comedy, in which all of the characters are meant to look ridiculous at times. The comedy is greatly aided by the stellar performances of Giannini and Melato, actors that Wertmüller had the good sense to feature in several films.
The most important measure by which the film should be judged is if it a good story well told. By that measure, and many others, the picture succeeds tremendously.
Italy/C-114m./Dir: Lina Wertmüller/Wr: Lina Wertmüller/Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato, Riccardo Salvino, Isa Danieli, Aldo Puglisi
If You Like: If you ever wondered what Gilligan’s Island would be like if the castaways engaged in sadomasochistic sex play, this is the film for you.
Video: A new 2K restoration of the film is presented on Kino Lorber’s
Swept Away [Blu-ray]. This represents a major upgrade in picture quality from prior DVD releases. The image is sharper, more vibrant, and more accurately framed at 1.85:1, making for a more pleasurable viewing experience. In addition, the Blu-ray disc includes a nice package of special features:
- A full-length audio commentary by Valerio Ruiz, the director of the 2015 feature documentary on Lina Wertmüller, Behind the White Glasses
- A 10-minute excerpt from documentary Behind the White Glasses, which specifically refers to the making and reception of Swept Away
- A 9-minute interview with director Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless, etc.), discussing some of the controversy surrounding the film and her personal views on it
- Original trailers for Swept Away and other Wertmüller films
- Booklet essays by director Allison Anders and film historian Grace Russo Bullaro, the author of
Man in Disorder: The Cinema of Lina Wertmller in the 1970s (Troubador Italian Studies)
Streaming: Lower resolution copies of the film can be found on YouTube and elsewhere, but the beautiful cinematography of the Mediterranean locales will largely be lost. The film should really be seen on a big screen or in the highest resolution possible.
More to Explore: Lina Wertmüller followed up Swept Away with her masterpiece,
Seven Beauties, also available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. If you want to dig deeper into the director’s filmography, Kino has also released the
Lina Wertmuller Collection (Love & Anarchy, The Seduction of Mimi, All Screwed Up) (3-Disc Set) [Blu-ray],
Summer Night [Blu-ray], and
Ferdinando and Carolina [Blu-ray].
Trivia: Giancarlo Giannini’s son, Adriano, co-starred with Madonna in the 2002 Guy Ritchie-directed remake. However, Ritchie doesn’t have Wertmüller’s deft touch, so I’d recommend sticking with the original.
For More Info: Reference the documentary
Behind the White Glasses or the book
Man in Disorder: The Cinema of Lina Wertmller in the 1970s (Troubador Italian Studies).