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Socio-political and sexual critique couched as love story ... Excellent DVD transfer from Koch-Lorber
on May 21, 2006
"Travolti da un insolito destino nell'azzurro mare d'agosto" (Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August), to give it its convoluted original title, was meant as an allegory on social and class injustice as much as a battle for dominance between the sexes. It is one of Lina Wertmuller's finest films and is the one which most closely fuses her main themes of socio-political and sexual injustice.
Rich, upper-middle-class, Raffaella (Mariangela Melato), a loud-mouthed and opinionated Social Democrat from Milan, and the pampered jet-set clique she hangs out with are on a yachting holiday in the Mediterranean. They are served by a crew of poor working-class, dark skinned southerners, one of whom, Gennarino (Giancarlo Giannini), a card carrying communist, cannot abide her whiny bitchiness. As luck would have it, they end up marooned on a deserted island. Torn from their worldly moorings, they undergo a role reversal as the rich, pampered lady has to literally prostrate herself before the menial servant in order to survive. This role reversal is portrayed graphically and very brutally and will certainly have feminists and even many men cringing in disgust, especially in our era of extreme political correctness. She is smacked, beaten, almost raped, made to grovel and finally forced to acknowledge him as her "Master". Incredibly, she slowly falls in love with him. To the point where she no longer wants to be rescued when a passing ship sails within sight of their island "paradise."
The bleak ending following their rescue, where she leaves him for the privileged lifestyle she had previously been accustomed to, is pessimistic and sad and points to how things never really change in the end - the poor will always be poor, the rich rich and not even love can break through that barrier. One final irony is revealed at the end when the dominatingly abusive Gennarino is shown as a meek, almost henpecked husband, set upon by his jealous wife when she finds out that he has had an affair with the woman while marooned on the island. The closing shot of him timidly carrying her bags as he walks a respectful 2 paces behind her is unforgettable. Not at all the "Master" he made himself out to be on his little island utopia.
Much of the socio-political implications will be lost to American audiences who will see it purely as a satirical battle of the sexes. On the level of a love story it is bittersweet if not downright sad. On the level of sexual equality, it pokes a finger at the concept of male domination. On the socio-political level it is a parable and a warning that tables will turn and that the oppressed will one day arise and the ruling elite will get a taste of the injustice that they have meted out for so long.
Previously released in 1997 in a deplorable transfer by Fox-Lorber, it has finally been restored and remastered to almost pristine condition by its successor, Koch-Lorber Films. It is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio (enhanced for widescreen TV). The film was deliberately shot in soft focus and exhibits a small amount of grain but other than that, it boasts gorgeously saturated colors, deep, rich blacks and nary a nick in a film that is over 30 years old (1974). The azure-blue hues of the Mediterranean sea and sky are a joy to behold. The original Italian mono track is included as well as 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 remixes. The sound is not that great but more than adequate for its purpose. This is after all a dialogue driven movie and Raffaella does sound obnoxiously shrill. Optional English subtitles are included. There are no extras save for some Koch-Lorber trailers. "Swept Away" comes in the same transfer as that found in Koch Lorber's Lina Wertmuller Collection but avoid that if you can. Only "Swept Away" and "Summer Night" have been fully remastered. It'd be wiser to wait till Koch-Lorber comes round to restoring and remastering the other films before getting them.