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Lina Wertmüller

Feisty and outspoken yet inscrutable to the end, Lina Wertmüller passed away at her home in Rome on Thursday. She was ninety-three. Starting out as an actress and stage manager, Wertmüller landed a job as an assistant to Federico Fellini just as he was preparing to make in 1963. Having written musical comedies for Italian television, she wrote and directed her first feature, The Lizards, that same year and won an award for her direction in Locarno. Her true international breakthrough, though, came when Cannes invited The Seduction of Mimi to compete in 1972.

The story of a Sicilian who takes a job at a factory in Turin and falls for a married woman, Mimi starred two of Wertmüller’s favorite actors, Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato. They were paired again in Love and Anarchy (1973) and Swept Away (1974), but Giannini goes it alone in the film Wertmüller is best known for. In Seven Beauties (1975), which is set against the backdrop of Fascist Italy during the Second World War, Giannini plays Pasqualino, a dandified petty criminal who kills a pimp, is sent to prison, joins the army, deserts, is captured by the Germans and sent to a concentration camp, where he hopes to save himself by seducing a sturdy female commandant (Shirley Stoler).

For Seven Beauties, Wertmüller became the first woman to be nominated for an Oscar for best director. She also became a cause célèbre, championed by John Simon in the pages of New York magazine but decried by Pauline Kael in the New Yorker and Molly Haskell and Ellen Willis in the Village Voice. “In the broad sense,” writes William Grimes in the New York Times, “Ms. Wertmüller was a political filmmaker, but no one could ever quite figure out what the politics were. A lively sense of human limitations tempered her natural bent toward anarchy. Struggle was noble and the social structure rotten, but the outcome was always in doubt.”

When New York’s Quad Cinema reopened with a Wertmüller retrospective in 2017, Hillary Weston spoke with her for the Current. “I try to entertain my audience and to capture their attention from the very beginning,” said Wertmüller. “I love grotesque poetry, and I think my films have that style, which combines humor and drama, irony and cynicism, comedy and tragedy. It allows you to play with different narrative tones and rhythms. It’s more than a style—grotesque narrative reflects my own personality.”

In the meantime, it’s been quite a week for magazines:

  • New York’s seventeenth annual “Reasons to Love New York” issue is all about the movies. “The fate of the city and the fate of cinema seem inextricably, almost mystically, intertwined,” writes Bilge Ebiri, introducing a walloping package that includes twelve directors talking about their favorites—Alex Ross Perry on Frederick Wiseman’s Welfare (1975), Radha Blank on John Cassavetes’s Shadows (1959), Mario Van Peebles on Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It (1986)—Matt Zoller Seitz on the 1970s, Mark Harris on Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve (1950), Jason Bailey on the chase scene in Harold Lloyd and Ted Wilde’s Speedy (1928), Heidi Julavits on Ciao! Manhattan (1972), and a browser-busting ranked and annotated list of the 101 best NYC movies.

  • As always, the new Cineaste arrives with a good handful of online exclusives. At the end of September, Irène Jacob succeeded the late Bertrand Tavernier as president of the Institut Lumière in Lyon. Mark Lager talks with her about that a bit, but of course, most of his questions are about Krzysztof Kieślowski, who directed Jacob in The Double Life of Véronique (1991) and Three Colors: Red (1994). Further Cineaste extras include Stuart Liebman on two early silent films by Jean Renoir, David Sterritt on Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror (1975), and Thomas Doherty on Todd Haynes’s The Velvet Underground.

  • The centerpiece of the new Film Quarterly is a dossier, “The Resilient Spring of Arab Cinema, Ten Years After.” “The recent history of Arab societies has been characterized by social movements pressing for the political and economic inclusion of marginalized ethnic and cultural minorities, for greater political pluralism, and for a cultural recognition of difference and the redress of gender inequality,” write Rasha Salti and editor B. Ruby Rich in their introduction. “Both before and after the 2011 uprisings and their suppression, films made in the region and in exile(s) have been a driving force in raising issues, representing dispersed voices, and alerting global audiences to the immense shifts under way.”

  • Isaac Julien’s most recent film installation, Lina Bo Bardi: A Marvellous Entanglement (2019), inspired by the work of the Italian Brazilian architect, is currently on view at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte, North Carolina, through February 27. “In recent decades, no other artist, perhaps, has dedicated their career to film’s ability to poetically disrupt time like Isaac Julien,” writes Osman Can Yerebakan in the new Brooklyn Rail. “The British artist’s absorbing moving images in sculptural displays take us from one moment to the other, zooming us suddenly back to what we thought was bygone, only to confront us with another instant before it flees.” Let’s slip in a pointer here to another exhibition review. For Texte zur Kunst, artist Rachal Bradley writes about Vision Machines, a survey of work by Peggy Ahwesh curated in collaboration with Erika Balsom and on view at Spike Island in Bristol through January 16.

  • Editor Daniel Riccuito has relaunched The Chiseler, the online magazine dedicated to writers, directors, actors, and all-round personalities of the early to mid-twentieth century. The freshly spruced up site is currently presenting some of the best pieces that have run over the years, including David Cairns’s appreciation of pioneering filmmaker Segundo de Chomόn, Imogen Sara Smith’s brief sketch of Ann Dvorak in Mervyn LeRoy’s Three on a Match (1932), John Strausbaugh’s salute to Jimmy Durante, and Riccuito’s own contextualization of Wild Boys of the Road (1933) not only within the oeuvre of William A. Wellman but also as a snapshot of all of America pulling itself up out of the Great Depression.

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