Lina Wertmüller’s Seven Beauties moves fluidly from farcical comedy (the first third feels like a dream sequence from 8 1/2 as played by a hammy Jack Lemmon) into really affecting war film and drama, with a little of Visconti’s The Damned thrown in for good measure.
Giancarlo Giannini plays Pasqualino AKA Pasqualino Seven Beauties, a self-sure man who commits an accidental murder leading to a series of perpetually more and more despairing situations.
Giannini carries the film, delivering Wertmüller’s often-hilarious dialogue with a cocksure bravado:
The beginning of the film is richly saturated, in contrast to much of the latter part. The inciting incident, when Pasqualino confronts Don Raffaele (Enzo Vitale), plays out like a western as directed by Fassbinder. Wertmüller’s expert framing – she shoots a lot of coverage in this scene, and very little of it is traditional – alongside the beautifully geometric interior, with low ceilings and a vast floor is so atmospheric:
Even Giannin’s close-ups are over-the-top, but that’s deserved because of the remarkable transformation his character will undergo. I love that second shot below. The wide low angle coupled with Pasqualino’s confident stance is intimidating. Raffaele’s subsequent low angle with the tight eyeline is also awesome – there’s so much about masculinity in here and the composition plays up their machismo. This whole scene plays out so slowly and then just erupts into fast absurdity:
Any film that has Fernando Rey in it is a winner in my book, and here he’s excellent as a fatalistic prisoner whose brand of honor is more moral than Pasqualino’s outwardly displayed code.
This prison camp sequence is breathtaking and hard to watch. Wertmüller returns to the colored lighting that she uses at the very beginning of the film-
She’s taking some real liberties with that green key light, but the mood is sickly and weird, so we buy it anyway.
The introduction to the camp shows the opposite pallor. Ashy and wan, she shoots it like someone has just blown a layer of suit over top of the negative. It’s surreal and otherworldly, and the wides full of people are disturbingly crowded:
It’s a huge shift in visual strategy from the showdown with Raffaele – the film has also shifted from the individual to the collective in a way that will really trouble Pasqualino’s character.
Wertmüller has such a balanced tone in the film. I’m writing here about so much shifting and changing and transforming, but the film always strikes the correct note. I think for all of the loud showiness that Pasqualino has in the film it’s surprisingly delicate.