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Salient. Victoria University Students' Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 25. October 4, 1976

Swept Away

Swept Away

Cartoon of a man eating chocolate sauce from a large tin

Lina Wertmuller's Swept Away is a love story posing variously as a didactic on class oppression, on sexual oppression, a comedy, and even (though this is purely a sideline) a photographic essay on sunsets. This might not be so bad if the political themes retained some measure of coherence, or even if the romance itself was credible or absorbing. None of this is the case in Swept Away.

Rafaella (Mariangela Melato) is the biggest bourgeois snob on the Mediterranean and Gennarino (Giancarlo Giannini) is a communist in the crew of her chartered yacht. As luck would have it, they find themselves adrift together on a rubber boat. The destination of the hapless pair is of course an island, their destiny an equally obvious love-match, and their eventual fate - you guessed it - forlorn separation in the real world.

Not much of a script to go on really. The depth seems to be coming in the beginning from a heavy-handed treatment of the class relationship of the two. Rafaella has spent her life abusing communists and the like for their stupidity and ineptitude; she now finds herself ina position where her reliance on the working class for her own existence is fully exposed, and she struggles to adapt. Gennarino realises the position he is in on the island and decides to give her an object lesson. His ruthlessness is to an extent justified, for it takes Rafaella a considerable white to get over the disrespect he is showing her.

But it doesn't take long for this theme to exhaust its possibilities, and the sexual theme is introduced. Gennarino drops his champion of the working class status and becomes a vicious chauvinist tyrant. As an illustration of de Beauvoirs point that the class struggle does not necessarily involve the sexual struggle, the development is valid. But if this is Wertmuller's aim it backfires disastrously. Because Rafaella is such a contemptible specimen, she becomes the object of a sort of savage humour. The cut from Gennarino throwing her his dirty clothes to her washing them is a visual joke, whose structure has already been established by two earlier such editing tricks at her expense. It is telling that the audience laughed loudest when Gennarino was at his most brutal.

However, the lack of serious commitment to political themes is nothing compared to the extraordinarily unconvincing emotional progression. We are actually asked to believe that Rafaella, after all the injustice inflicted on her, does come to love Gennarino, and that he loves her in return. She is not, as we might expect, merely engaged in an act of expediency, as the ending clearly shows. [Although they do return to their old lives, she to her class snobbery and he to his male complacency, they both suffer acutely the pains of being rent asunder]. What is her motive? Surely not his sexual performance, and even more surely, Wertmuller can't be trying to make some kind of comment on the natural felicity of human beings in isolation. After the patterned approach to the political themes sof the first half, this development is nothing short of a dishonest evasion of the tenets she herself has established.

To her 'somewhat dubious credit, Wertmuller has made good use of the sensory aspects of film. With summer coming on, who would not relish the sight of warm blue sea and fine sandy beaches at dusk; and the lyrical music score is pleasantly enticing.

Swept Away stands waist high to the successes of Wertmuller's earlier film, The Seduction of Mimi, and almost collapses where MIMI wavered. That is to say, as a vehicle for the talents of the charismatic Giannini it allows him scope to do little more than wiggle his eyebrows and revel in his star status, while Melato fights valiantly against impossible odds: she deserves better treatment. Although it provokes the odd laugh or two, as a film containing elements of a serious political stand Swept Away is dangerously beguiling.

Lina Wertmuller is the subject of much critical argument in Europe and the States. If her defendants are to secure their ground they will have to look elsewhere than this film for support.

- Simon Wilson.