Lina Wermuller's Swept Away offers the kind of jolt to the system that so rarely occurs in the cinema these days. In an era when most filmmakers are frightened of offending audiences, the frankness of Swept Away stands out. Consider this: the film features a man slapping around a woman, and Wertmuller doesn't condemn this action. In the context of the narrative, it is not viewed as morally reprehensible. Of course, there's more going on here than initially meets the eye, but this is the aspect that has disturbed Swept Away's most ardent critics. Those people should bother digesting the entire film before opening their mouths and making fools out of themselves. Swept Away has recently been remade by Guy Ritchie, starring his acting-challenged wife, Madonna. Not having seen the movie, I can't assess it, but I will make the following comment: in the history of cinematic bad ideas, this one is right up there with the idea of doing a shot-by-shot remake of Psycho. Wertmuller's film is unique - a one-of-a-kind outing that relies as much upon the performances of the two leads (Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini, who are both wonderful) as it does upon the brazenness of the script. This is the version to see - there will never be another one like it.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The film begins aboard a private yacht in the Mediterranean. Raffaella (Melato), the snobbish and arrogant wife of a rich man, spends most of the day lounging around or playing cards. She is relentlessly critical of Gennarino (Gianni), one of the deckhands. In her eyes, he can do no right. Even his pasta isn't al dente enough for her. One day, she decides that she wants to go swimming off the shore of an island and orders Gennarino to take her there. Along the way, the motor on the dinghy dies, and the two end up stranded out in the water, far away from the boat and the island. Eventually, they sight land, but, instead of this being their destination, it's an uninhabited island. They are marooned. Food and shelter are the first orders of business. Gennarino has no trouble obtaining both, but Raffaella, unused to doing anything for herself, is helpless. In order to secure Gennarino's aid, she must perform menial chores for him. When she fails at something, he hits her (not a playful tap, but a hard slap) and she must endure the blows without complaint. It's not long before their battle of the sexes turns into a dance of sexual attraction. Isolated from any other human contact, Raffaella and Gennarino develop a powerful attraction for one another. But the lingering question remains: could their attachment survive the seemingly inevitable return to civilization that looms in their future?
Although there is a great deal of seriousness in the issues addressed by Swept Away, the film is at times bitingly funny. Those who must classify every film often have difficulty with this one, unable to decide whether it more appropriately belongs with the dramas or the comedies. Swept Away offers a no-holds barred depiction of the war of the sexes. Of course, this is a common theme for movies (especially romantic comedies), but few offer such an unsparing look at the naked divisions that impair communications between men and women. For those who have come to expect all motion pictures to develop in safe, expected ways, Swept Away offers an opportunity to experience something different. The movie is not realistic, but the strong element of fantasy doesn't limit its ability to captivate and intrigue. That's because the characters and their relationship rise to the top and arrest our attention from beginning to end. This gem of a film surprised audiences when it came out, and it has lost none of its power or relevance since then.
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