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Lina Wertmüller on Not Feeling Nostalgic, Capturing the Grotesque, and Her Retrospective

Written by on April 24, 2017 

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“It can’t always be about money,” says the infatuated Carletto (Nino Bergamini) to the object of his affection, a country-girl-turned-city-woman named Adelina (Sara Rapisarda) who rejects his marriage proposal because they haven’t yet reached the economic level she desires. In All Screwed Up, Adelina’s refusal to marry a man because of his position, and his violent reaction towards the rejection (he rapes her as she tries to save the new television set she bought for the apartment she shares with other girls) might very well represent the conflict that was at the center of all of Lina Wertmüller’s films, the clash between money and virtue, or more specifically can people be in possession of both?

In films like Swept Away, Seven Beauties and The Seduction of Mimi, Wertmüller displayed a worldview that changed the way people thought about female filmmakers, she made films so bold, unique and transgressive that of course all people wanted to discuss was the gender of their creator. She will be forever known as the first woman who broke into the boys’ club and was nominated for the Best Director Oscar; she lost and it would take another 40 years for a woman to win, but Wertmüller’s legacy remains unsurpassed, and yet her work has strangely been neglected by audiences and critics alike, which is why it’s refreshing to see her at the center of a retrospective at the newly reopened Quad Cinema in New York.

The aptly titled Lina Wertmüller: Female Trouble series features the auteur’s major works including her first film The Lizards and will also include the U.S. premiere of Valerio Ruiz’s Behind the White Glasses, a documentary that tries to encompass Wertmüller’s themes and her legacy. To commemorate the retrospective, Wertmüller answered some questions via email, in which she discusses actors she loved working with, satire and what she hopes audiences will get from the retrospective.

The Film Stage: Does having a retrospective of your work make you feel nostalgic or does it inspire you to want to make more films?

Lina Wertmüller: I’ve never been nostalgic about the past. I generally look to the future and feel grateful to the extraordinary experiences I had during my whole life. The retrospective means so much to me. It’s a unique occasion to meet younger generations and to see if my films are still appreciated by new audiences.

At the center of your films there was always a battle of social classes, why did you choose satire and black humor to address those issues?

I think that grotesque portraits can be very helpful to underline defects and vices of people, especially if you are portraying characters that represent a particular political background.

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Your films proved controversial in America for their sexual content. Why do you think American audiences are so puritanical when it comes to sex?

This is a very hard question! I think that time has changed. I’m not sure Americans are so puritanical today.

You’ve talked about how American distributors haven’t been as good with your most recent films. Are you hopeful about platforms like Netflix to make your films available to wider audiences?

Yes. I feel positive with new technologies and new platforms. They are a new opportunity to produce films and to diffuse them all over the world.

Films like Swept Away seem more relevant than ever. When you made those films were you hoping that at some point there would be social and gender equality and your films would seem like artifacts of the past?

I don’t think that genders are not equal in my film. They are put in contrast, which is quite different and their conflict represent a social battle between classes.

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What actor or actress did you love to work with?

After The Seduction of Mimì, Mariangela and Giancarlo started to become very popular. We worked very well together and it was my intention to make a new film with them. We were a good team and I made some of my best films with them. I always kept a lot of attention while choosing my actors and I could not imagine a different cast for my movies.

Which of your films are you the most fond of?

I love each movie I made. I can’t express a preference. It’s like choosing between your children. It’s simply impossible.

With a renewed interest in grassroot politics and activism in young people, do you feel your films are in store for a rediscovery?

I hope so. I hope that the retrospective at Quad Cinema will give a positive answer to your question.

Lina Wertmüller: Female Trouble runs through May 2 at NYC’s Quad Cinema. See more information here.


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