On the surface (and in the water), Italian director Lina Wertmuller’s Swept Away seems a rather traditional, comic battle of the sexes. The African Queen with subtitles, perhaps, or The War of the Roses with prettier scenery.
But Wertmuller’s 1974 film has some radical takes on some old ideas: Does “no” always mean “no” when it comes to sex? Is feminism a desirable progression for humanity – or does it upset the “natural” scheme of things? Does capitalism rock – or does it knock down the little guy, creating an undeserving, privileged upper class?
Rafaella (Mariangela Melato) is a wealthy industrialist’s wife enjoying a Mediterranean yacht expedition with friends when a mishap maroons her on a desolate island with Gennarino (Giancarlo Giannini), a left-leaning, lower-class deckhand.
Rafaella, who makes no secret of her political views, could be described as 1) a beacon of feminism, a go-getter with little sympathy for anyone lacking her ambition and drive, or 2) a pampered bitch. Gennarino, who must (grudgingly) cater to Rafaella’s every whim, could be described as 1) a victim of an unfair social system, a hard-working “man of the people,” or 2) a male chauvinist pig.
When this political odd couple is stranded on an island, hilarity ensues – but not for long. Swept Away takes on a darker, more serious tone when the two castaways find their roles reversed, with newly liberated Gennarino more than happy to turn class warfare on its head. The deckhand quickly turns to physical intimidation – including sexual assault – in his attempts to induce Rafaella’s submission.
At this point, political correctness tells us that we should clearly side with the woman, right? Not so fast – because as I’ve said, Wertmuller (who also wrote the script) has some unorthodox views of the situation.
In the end, the real battle is between realism and romanticism. I’ll let you guess which character turns out to be the romantic, and which the realist. Grade: A-
Director: Lina Wertmuller Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato, Riccardo Salvino, Isa Danieli, Aldo Puglisi Release: 1974
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