Swept Away Review

Anthony Nield has reviewed Arrow’s Region 0 release of Lina Wertmuller’s Swept Away. Famously remade in recent years with Madonna, the original sadly proves to be little improvement and is lumbered with a shoddy presentation.

The first thing to strike you about Swept Away (its full title has an adjoining …by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August) is just how very seventies it all seems: Pier Piccioni’s light jazz score, Ennio Guarnieri’s soft focus photography, Giancarlo Giannini’s facial hair. Whether intentional or not these elements conspire to replicate the Italian jet set of the time, one which writer/director Lina Wertmüller believes she is using as a catalyst for political satire. Yet her film is rendered in such broad strokes, specifically broad comic strokes, that any potential edge is diminished to the point of inconsequence.

The tone is immediate from the off with voices raised in the shrillest of manners. Meet Mariangela Melato, the rich bitch whose constant antagonistic nature puts her at odds with “servant” Giannini, a man on the opposite end of the class, wealth and political spectrums. As fate (or rather Unusual Destiny) would have it the pair become shipwrecked on a deserted island in the Mediterranean, an event which switches the power divide and puts Giannini in charge.

Understandably then, Swept Away is for the most part a two-hander (indeed, were it not for the settings the film would seem highly theatrical in its approach) meaning that it must rely whole-heartedly on its two leads. Giannini turns out to be a fine comic actor with an especially expressive face and physicality. Yet the film is severely hampered by the one-dimensionality of its characters, so much so that they often be described using one simple word. This is good versus bad, communism versus capitalism, Puritanism versus permissiveness, Southern Italy versus Northern Italy, upper middle class versus working class, the noble savage versus the “industrial whore”. Indeed, such is the obviousness that the characters essentially cease to exist, instead walking around as political ciphers.

It’s a fact compounded by their dialogue as, for the political referencing, it rarely extends beyond back and forth insulting as opposed to any form of discussion. The set-up has an air of the screwball comedy about it, but there’s little crackle to the dialogue and certainly nothing to compare with, say, the bantering of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Moreover, without any true sense of character the various plot developments count for very little. Most notable is the instance when the relationship takes a turn towards the sadomasochistic, yet is rendered almost exploitative as there’s no depth to back it up.

That said a certain curiosity factor does exist. Of course, the picture was recently remade by Guy Ritchie and then much maligned (though many of the 2002 version’s flaws are inherent in the original), plus there’s Wertmüller’s American success during the seventies to account, one that in the UK is currently near impossible to explore owing to the unavailability of her films on VHS and DVD and the scarcity of television screenings (recent years have only offered a dubbed version of A Night Full of Rain in the early hours of the morning). Those wishing to satisfy such curiosities are likely to be put off, however, by Arrow’s presentation. The disc may offer an anamorphic transfer (at a ratio of 1.78:1 thus cropping slightly the original 1.85:1 framing as can be clearly seen during the opening credits), but its of a dirty, fading print that is clearly showing signs of age and also appears to be an NTSC port. Likewise, the soundtrack (in the original Italian mono with optional English subtitles) is in far from great condition and supplies a number of highly audible pops and crackles. To further compound difficulties, the disc also comes completely bereft of extras.

Anthony Nield

Updated: Apr 17, 2005

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