Lina Wertmüller’s brief, shining moment in the cultural discussion began with this socio-sexual comedy, only to expire a mere three films (and three years) later. The films were all big, noisy, contrarian tracts with pleasures that diminish pic by pic, irregardless of the order seen. And, as quickly as it had appeared, her voice largely vanished from the American theatrical film scene. Which makes MIMI as good a place as any to start. Giancarlo Giannini stars as a married Sicilian metalworker who returns home with a mistress & their kid after being exiled up north for voting Communist. But when he’s cuckolded by his all but forgotten wife, he plots a revenge against the little bastard’s father, seducing & impregnating his wife. Back on the work front, hardball tactics from organized crime types and political blandishments from right-wingers lead Giannini away from his few remaining proletariat convictions . . . life’s complications go on. Wertmüller stirs the pot with outrageous juxtapositions of scale & image, pushing laughs and serious points at us like a carnival barker. She’s relentless. The influences of Fellini and Pietro Germi are obvious*, but her coarse tone wears you down. (More and more as you see her other pics.) As the free-spirited mistress from the north, Mariangela Melato talks a mile a minute, gets her laughs, and, for a startling moment right at the end, looks exactly like Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Everyone else overplays like mad, cancelling each other out even as Giannini’s buffo act (Marcello Mastroianni-meets-Charlie Chaplin) supplies a rooting interest.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DY: Giannini’s character is nicknamed ‘Mimi,’ like the heroine in Puccini’s LA BOHEME. He even quotes the opening line of her intro aria, ‘Mi chiamano Mimi.’ Yet, much of the film’s ill-fitting score is taken from Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA, the Callas Cetra recording of ‘53.
DOUBLE-BILL: *Germi’s DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE/’61 w/ Mastroianni. Like the difference between fresh mozzarella & the supermarket stuff.