JUNE IS TWILIGHT TIME MONTH
Can’t thank the folks enough at Twilight Time Blu-Ray (in conjunction with Rewind Film, S.r.l.) for presenting us foreign movie fans with LA MOGUE PIU’ BELLA and APPASSIONATA, a pair of diverse Italian pics celebrating the multi-talented actress Ornella Muti.
Muti (born Francesca Romana Rivelli) was one of the 1970’s greatest cinemactress finds. While many Americans might be unfamiliar with her large body of work (save for her best-known international turn in 1980’s campy Flash Gordon), in Europe the lady is a goddess. That she started out so young (she was 14-years-old when BELLA began filming) is all the more remarkable for her range and cognizance of adult situations and emotions. Post-BELLA, Muti, simultaneously blossoming into full-fledged womanhood and deserved stardom, was able to use her incredible beauty to joke about her sexuality. Of course, they say “beauty is a curse,” and in Muti’s case, that often proved true. Most picture-goers were gobsmacked by her looks that transcended mere movie-star gorgeous; the term I often use is “ridiculously beautiful,” translated to mean “Come on, no one really looks like that!” But Ornella Muti did (and does). Her “deal with it” attitude coupled with her outstanding thesp abilities (plus that all-important “star power”) has kept the actress in the Euro limelight for over fifty years. And, as indicated, below are two reasons why.
In the amazing dramatic thriller, LA MORGLIE PIU’ BELLA (The Most Beautiful Wife), director and co-writer (with Enrico Ribulsi and Sofia Scandurra) Damiano Damiani manages to create a visceral, uncompromising world of 1970 rural Italy. In a small Sicilian village, ruled by Mafia overlords, the reins are temporarily handed over to the young, impulsive and vicious psychopath Don Vito Juvara (the elder kingpins agree to jail sentences in a “clam up or sleep with the fishes” pact). Juvara is immediately attracted to the young daughter of a poor farm family. The woman, Francesca, isn’t your average country beauty – she’s a person with scruples, smarts and determination. Half-agreeing to courting her very distant relative, this faux romance is kiboshed by Juvara who threatens to kill the suitor unless he “disappears.” This allows Vito to move in on Francesca; admittedly, she’s turned on by his looks and bad boy demeanor – not realizing how bad this boy is. Soon, she discovers the frightening truth, and rebels – backing off and out, shaming the thug into sociopathic rages (no one ever says “no” to him). Vito retaliates, mostly out of lust and obsession – two points Francesca is wise enough to play in her favor. Eventually, he breaks down, confesses his love and promises to change. Francesca, wanting to believe his regeneration, agrees to see him again, but is quickly and horribly shown the extent of his lies and never-can-reform true colors. After he rapes her, Francesca does the unthinkable – she brings criminal charges against the punk, much to the horror of the villagers, the clergy and the police (who refuse to believe the female has the balls to go through with her case). But Francesca has more guts than anyone in the town, including her now vandalized family. Even her loyal, loving kid brother turns against her. But, as they say these days, “she persisted,” and her defiant vow to achieve justice is stirring, satisfying and occasionally terrifying. LA MOGLIE, thanks to Damiani, pushes all the right buttons. It’s exquisitely photographed on-location in scope by Franco di Giacomo, and features a (what else?) marvelous score by Ennio Morricone (accessible as an IST). The Twilight Time 1080p transfer from original, restored 35MM camera elements is stunning. The audio is offered in dual options: the original Italian with English subtitles, or an English dialog version produced for Anglo audiences.
The performances are perfection itself, especially from Muti, who essays the role of a troubled, conflicted and tenacious woman that should be (but isn’t) way beyond her years; the novice actress, as stated earlier, was only fourteen when the pic began production. What Muti manages with her eyes and body movement is screen acting magnificence. One moment particularly stands out; Francesca, again hearing a begging Vito’s lies about how he’ll change, is met with a “fool me once” look, followed by her gazing at other mob wives – all once beautiful, hopeful women like herself, but now old-before-their-time hags, sitting in silence and fear. Muti’s next expression is startling: pathos (for the women) mixed with “go fuck yourself” antagonism (for her assaulter). This is cinematically paralleled by visuals of the priests shoo-ing away women with the same gusto reserved for pigs.
A later scene worth noting (and referenced above) circles around her once-loyal brother, now toadying to the demands of the town, and the mob (of which he hopes to get himself a position with). Muti’s character doesn’t hold back on her disappointment; the brother’s response is even more jaw-dropping. The sibling vows that he’ll not forget what had been done to her (rape), and will wait till he grows up: “Then, I’ll kill him,” he calmly replies as if he were asking about dinner.
Oh, yeah, one last note: LA MOGLIE PIU’ BELLA is entirely based on a true-life story, a 1965 kidnap and rape of Franca Viola.
About as “one extreme to the other” as you can get, 1974’s APPASSIONATA, directed and co-written by Gianluigi Calderone (with Alessandro Parenzo and Domenico Rafele) nevertheless covers the same basic theme: young women coming to terms with their burgeoning sexual power. In BELLA, the force was used for protest – or good; in APPASSIONATA, it’s more like “because I can.” The story revolves around two girl-women who want to test the limits of their sensuality…partially because of its materialistic attraction, but mostly because of the potential devastating effect on essentially decent men. In the case of this movie, the unfortunate prime target is the father of one of the teens, a successful dentist (the great Gabriele Ferzetti).
BFFs Eugenia and Nicola have been friends like since forever. Now their girlhood innocence has bloomed into womanhood sin-nocence, taking over their bodies, minds and souls. The fact that both females have early matured into gorgeous specimens of pulchritude has made their goals all the more lethal.
Nicola (Eleanora Giorgi) decides to take it to the max by seducing Nicola’s father in his office. At first, he’s outraged, and mildly disgusted – but, ultimately (dick over brain) cannot refuse the determined female with a mission. He abandons everything for her (to the steadfast nymph’s delight), including his longtime wife – a former virtuoso pianist, now suffering from the early stages of dementia (a brilliant and poignant performance by Valentina Cortese).
The spider-and-the-fly lifestyles of these femme fatales, of course, eventually has terrible repercussions, but not before giving audiences a sensational taste of the misuse of power, and its ripple effect victims.
The movie is beautifully photographed by Armando Nannuzzi (while some grain is present in this otherwise stunning Blu-Ray transfer, the bulk of the movie looks quite nice, with candy pop colors and detail). A wonderful score by Piero Piccioni accentuates the proceedings (like BELLA, it is accessible as an IST, and offers dialog in both Italian w/English subtitles, or an English dub version).
The movie American Beauty wishes it was, APPASSIONATA hits the ground running, a cinematic walk of shame for tweeners who think they’re immune – if only because they’re still way too young to fully grasp what they’re doing. It is peak cautionary tale movie-making, and another triumph for Muti.
LA MOGLIE PIU’ BELLA. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA.
APPASSIONATA. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 DTS-HD MA.
Twilight Time/Rewind Film, S.r.l. SRP: $29.95@.