For a time in the 1970s, Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmüller was the bee’s knees of critical darlings — even managing to snare the admiration of that most hateful and hated critic John Simon (he makes Armond White look like a dilettante in the troll department). One wag even commented that had Wertmüller not existed, Simon would have had to invent her. But her period of greatness was short-lived. By the end of the decade her luster had dimmed. Today, even her most famous works are rarely revived — which may or may not suggest that they were a little over-praised in the first place. She continued to work, but her popularity was long gone by 1992 when she made Ciao, Professore!, which was a calculated attempt to recapture her international filmmaker status. While it at least secured U.S. distribution, it hardly restored her reputation — probably because it was about as far removed from what we think of as a Lina Wertmüller film as possible.
Taken on its own merits, Ciao, Professore! is a modestly entertaining movie of the “teacher who made a difference” school. It panders to every trope known to that sub-genre, and throws in the “hilarious” addition of eight-year-olds swearing — something wears out its amusement value by the fifth or sixth abritrary injection of “fuck.” (This is worlds away from the creative vulgarity of Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon from 1973.) It’s really little more than To Sir, with Love (1967) with subtitles, a hefty Italian star (Paolo Villagio), younger students, and more swearing. Apart from the fact that it’s impossible to escape the fact that the film was barely worth Wertmüller’s, it’s more or less inoffensive, but also predictable and uninspired. The premise is simple — due to a clerical error Marco Sperelli (Villagio) ends up with a teaching position in a crummy, rundown school in an equally crummy, rundown town. While he’s appalled by what he finds there and anxious for a transfer, he, of course, comes to care about his young charges and…I’m sure you can take it from there.
Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Ciao, Professore! Friday, Sept. 12, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com