“This is a desert island and wild.”
“How is it possible? We’re not in the South Pacific, we are right in the Mediterranean!”
Swept Away…by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August (Travolti da un Insolito Destino nell’Azzurro Mare d’Agosto) is a movie destined to become a cult in the history of international moviemaking.
The movie was written and directed by art-house director Lina Wertmüller in 1974 and it represents the social discrepancies of 1970s Italy. The director is not afraid to explore racism, inequalities between Northern and Southern Italy, feminism and politics; this is when the contradictions of each political party emerge. It can be considered a time capsule of Italy in the ’70s, when there was a kind of political schism between the conservative and the leftist wings of government.
The film offers a glimpse into love relationships, human nature and society, and it does so in a tragicomic way. There is a clash of capitalist beliefs and communist convictions and, from a certain time onwards, even a reversal of social roles.
The critical response has been overall positive, with American film critic Roger Ebert writing for the Chicago Sun-Times that the film “resists the director’s most determined attempts to make it a fable about the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and persists in being about a man and a woman. On that level, it’s a great success.” It received an R rating and has a 65% positive rating from top film critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
Swept Away won Best Music at David di Donatello Awards, Best Film and Best Actress at Tehran International Film Festival.
It stars Italian actors Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato; the latter plays a rich and spoiled woman from Milan’s high society, who is vacationing along with her husband and their friends on a yacht in Sardinia. She frequently despises and humiliates the cabin boys, especially Gennarino, played by Giannini (in a memorable scene, she complains about spaghetti being not enough “al dente”), and constantly puts down the servant class. She doesn’t foresee that she will be stuck with him on a desert island when they get lost at sea on a dinghy with broken engine while on excursion.
She is constantly lamenting their shipwrecked condition and he can’t stand her anymore, refusing to help her and turning their roles upside down, so that she has to submit to any abuses he dishes out. When the balance of power is reversed, he becomes dominant and at times abusive, while she becomes weak and submissive.
Their chemical attraction seems to turn into a passionate love relationship and one can’t help but feel caught up in their torrid affair, which begins in a sort of brutal way and then takes on different nuances of tenderness.
They both have a childish behavior, but he reveals himself to be soft-hearted and loving, a man who never had a chance to let out his own feelings, as he generally hides behind a caveman attitude.
Wertmüller wants to show us that the working class figure has no intrinsic nobility. When he has the chance to be in a position of power, he becomes as cruel as his oppressors. There are no political villains and heroes, power is relative and humans often tend to abuse it, instead of treating others with empathy and understanding.
One can read the movie as a story about forbidden love revisited under its sociological aspects; Giannini and Melato are both wonderful in carrying it on their shoulders from the beginning to the end. They are challenged dramatically and they manage to win every scene with their immense artistic talent.
As for the movie ending, whether you love it or hate it, you can’t deny its power in leaving you with many reflections on society that are still relevant to this day.
REMAKES: the movie was remade in 2002 by Guy Ritchie with Madonna playing the role of the woman. I haven’t seen it but, judging from reviews, it doesn’t stand up to the original one.
OTHER MOVIES YOU MAY LIKE: Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini have both starred in other movies by Lina Wertmüller, mainly The Seduction of Mimi (Mimì Metallurgico Ferito nell’Onore) in 1972 and Love & Anarchy (Film d’Amore e Anarchia, ovvero ‘Stamattina alle 10 in Via dei Fiori nella Nota Casa di Tolleranza…’) in 1973. These movies also deal with social and political themes and I will probably check them out in the future.
The other Wertmüller movie I saw is The Worker and the Hairdresser in a Whirlwind of Sex and Politics(Metalmeccanico e Parrucchiera in un Turbine di Sesso e Politica), which was shot in 1996; it has similar themes but it stars a different cast of actors.
If you enjoy the genre, you may also want to take a look at some Hollywood screwball comedies like The Awful Truth(1937) and His Girl Friday(1940).
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