The Most Beautiful Wife Review
The Most Beautiful Wife (La Moglie Più Bella) is based on the true story of Franca Viola, a young Sicilian woman who, standing up against a forced abduction, rape and abuse by local mobsters in 1965, became to be seen as the embodiment of feminism and women’s rights in Italy. Bringing the story to the screen as in 1970, Damiano Damiani, making great use of the natural Sicilian locations and using a stirring Ennio Morricone score, gives the film an almost Western spin that fully draws out the shocking and highly emotive nature of the film.
Although not directly involved in the local mafia activity, Vito Iuvara (Alessio Orano) is well known and has earned the respect of don Antonino Stella for refusing to indulge information on his uncle to a rival gang when he was kidnapped as a young boy. Don Antonino’s activities however have been under investigation by the local police force, who have arrested him. As the Don hands himself over to the police, believing he can escape the hand of justice, he gives Vito some advice – to continue to be true to the ideals of family and work and not to get distracted by women, but to marry a good one with high morals and preferably from a peasant background.
Vito already has a woman in mind who meets all of the recommended qualities – Francesca (Ornella Muti), a seamstress who lives with her parents and younger brother, a poor family evacuated from an earthquake - although to call the young 15 year old girl a woman is perhaps stretching the point. Sure of himself however, Vito sees off any pretenders and arranges a wedding. What he doesn’t expect however is for Francesca to reject him. A young man, handsome, getting his first taste of power and influence in the wake of don Antonino’s arrest, it brings out a side of Vito that Francesca doesn’t like. When she jilts him on their wedding day, his masculine pride demands retribution – he’s going to make Francesca his wife, by force if necessary.
Damiano Damiani’s The Most Beautiful Wife is a powerful film, all the more so because it manages to successfully work with emotive material without sensationalism in a number of genres – the Western and the mafia film - that are normally mired in cliché and mannerisms. The film deals unglamorously and realistically with the patriarchal nature of Sicilian society and with Italian attitudes towards family, marriage, women, honour and duty, realising that there is quite enough material within these areas alone for a tense drama. Mob violence is just one aspect that these attitudes give rise to, but Damiani’s view is much wider in its consideration of society and it’s all the more chilling for it. Refusing to cooperate with the police, even the proud, but pitiful threat from Francesca’s younger brother to deal with Vito on his own terms has a darker side when you realise that it is precisely this experience and attitude that will bring the next generation up in the same never ending cycle of violence.
The presence of a young 14 year-old Ornella Muti, making an astonishing impact in her debut film, is another key factor in the film having such force. Her youthful beauty and innocence is perfect for a demanding and essential role which stands up against such attitudes. Muti effectively conveys the conflicting emotions and states that her character has to go through – her pride, her inexperience, her disgrace, her defiance and her strength of character. She won’t be submissive, won’t just “get used to it” nor, in what is perhaps the most stunning indictment of this society, will she believe that “it all ends in holy matrimony”. In a society where any contrary stance from a woman is unthinkable, the full force of the decision she takes and the consequences that ensue are fully felt.
The Most Beautiful Wife is released in the United States by NoShame. The DVD is in NTSC format and is region-free.
NoShame maintain their reputation here by presenting a simply gorgeous, richly-toned transfer of the film There is a little grain and softness commensurate with the age of the film which is slightly more evident in wider shots, but close-ups and medium shots reveal excellent detail, colour definition and skin tones. It’s possibly a little too strongly contrasted, and there is some slight edge enhancement, but there are no other signs of any kind of problem with either the print, which is largely free from any kind of marks or damage – or the digital transfer, which is stable and showing no evidence of compression artefacts.
The original mono audio track is retained in the Dolby Digital 2.0 mix and is about as good as could be expected. There is a little analogue noise, but its not significant and only audible if you are listening out for it. The dialogue is clear, audible, with resonance and fine depth of tone. An English Dolby Digital 2.0 dub is also included. It’s obviously not a viable substitute for the original Italian track – the woman voicing Muti sounds too old, ruining the impact of her youth, and a lot of the Americanised voices just don’t fit – but it almost gets away with it.
English subtitles are provided in a white font. They are reasonably clear and always readable, translating the film quite well.
Rather than the host of interviews that usually accompany NoShame releases, they are much more usefully all edited together here into a single feature - Sicily, Ornella, the Mafia and Beyond (45:41). Rather wonderfully, they have gathered many of the principal figures in the making of the film – director Damiano Damiani, assistant director Mino Giarda, editor Antonio Siciliano, director of photography Franco di Giacomo and lead actor Alessio Orano – and conducted new interviews with them. They cover the background story behind the film, the casting of Ornella Muti and the problems of working with a 14 year old girl with no acting experience, their run-in with the local real-life mobsters and some anecdotes on Damiani’s unconventional, but effective, approach to directing the film. Despite the editing, there is still a lot of repetition in the anecdotes, but even there the variances and contradictions tell another story. A Trailer (3:37) is also included in anamorphic widescreen like the interview feature. It is in Italian with optional subtitles, but at a flick of the audio button, you can hear the English dubbed version. As ever, the DVD comes with a booklet with very informative liner notes by Richard Harland Smith on the subject and its treatment, as well as biographical information on the careers of Damiani and Muti. All together, but for the lack of perspective on the film from Ornella Muti, this is about as comprehensive as you could expect the extra features for this film to be.
A low-budget film, shot quickly, on an emotive and controversial subject dealing with the mafia and women’s rights, Damiano Damiani took a great chance by giving The Most Beautiful Wife a whole Western feel and placing the entire weight of it on an unknown 14 year old with no acting experience. It is however directed, photographed and acted with such passion that it will still make your blood boil, but with such a superb sense of structure and directness of purpose that it never sensationalises the material. Another rarely seen film, there is much more to The Most Beautiful Wife than it being merely the acting debut of Ornella Muti, and once again we have NoShame to thank not just for rescuing it from obscurity, but for presenting it in the best possible manner, with fine supporting features.