Watching Lina Wertmüller’s most highly regarded film, Seven Beauties (1975), for this review (and for easily the first time in 30 years), I was struck not so much by what a great Wertmüller picture it is—though it is that—but by how it is so stylistically part and parcel of 1970s filmmaking. I throw that out not to downplay Wertmüller’s contribution to film, but to suggest that she wasn’t separate from that exciting period of film, as often seems to be the belief, but rather an integral part of it. If someone were to actually reevaluate her generally overlooked place in film history, I have a hunch that she’d have a higher place in the pantheon of filmmakers from that era of “superstar” directors. And there could be no better place to start than with Seven Beauties.
The film is a bleakly funny, beautifully made and deeply disturbing work that follows—in a nonlinear fashion (no, that didn’t start with Pulp Fiction in 1994)—the misadventures of Pasqualino Frafuso (Giancarlo Giannini), an absurd macho creation of typical Wertmüller design. Pasqualino has seven sisters—all rather homely, some even more than that—and an absurd idea of them dishonoring the family name. This idea leads to him murdering a pimp, landing in an insane asylum, being put in the army, captured by Germans, and thrown into a concentration camp—where his notions of honor sink lower than could be imagined. Some of it is grim beyond description, but all of it is brilliant filmmaking from an artist at the top of her form.