Lina Wertmüller (born 14 August 1928) is an Italian screenwriter and film director. She was the first woman nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for Seven Beauties in 1977. She is also known for her films The Seduction of Mimi, Love and Anarchy and Swept Away. In 2019, Wertmüller was announced as one of the four recipients of the Academy Honorary Award for her career.
After her years spent touring with an avant-garde puppet group, Wertmüller set her sights on film. In the early 1960s, Flora Carabella, a school friend, introduced Lina to Marcello Mastroianni, Flora’s husband and famed Italian actor, who introduced her to mentor and renowned auteur Federico Fellini. Wertmüller has spoken a great deal on the importance of her relationship with Fellini, with particular emphasis on his influence on her during her time as assistant director on 8½. Describing their collaboration and his character in an interview, Wertmüller is quoted as saying: “You can not speak about Fellini. Describing him is like describing a sunrise or sunset. Fellini was an extraordinary human being, a force of nature, he was a man of extraordinary intelligence and sympathy. In the documentary I talked about many moments with him while we were filming 8½. Meeting Fellini is like discovering a wonderful unknown panorama. He opened my mind when he said something that I will never forget: ‘If you are not a good storyteller, all the techniques in the world will never save you.’ He told me that before I started shooting my first film, ‘I basilischi'”. Although The Basilisks, which was scored by Ennio Morricone, was critically well received, it did not garner the sort of attention that her later works would.
Throughout the 1960s, Wertmüller produced a series of films that were well liked but that failed to garner international success. Of these films, her first collaboration with Giancarlo Giannini occurred in 1966’s musical comedy Rita the Mosquito. As Darragh O’Donoghue described in an issue of Cineaste, generally “her early films comprise a fairly straight pastiche of neorealism and early Fellini (The Lizards, 1963, available without English subtitles on YouTube), an episodic comedy, two musicals, and a lovely Spaghetti Western (The Belle Starr Story, 1968, directed under the pseudonym Nathan Wich, and available in a bleached English dub on YouTube)-works where knowledge of generic predecessors was essential”.
The 1970s for the socialist auteur saw the release of virtually all of her most influential and highly regarded films, many of which featured a collaboration with Giancarlo Giannini. Beginning in 1972 with The Seduction of Mimi, and continuing until 1978 with Blood Feud, Wertmüller released seven films many of which are considered masterpieces of Commedia all’italiana. It was during this time she saw critical and international success, gaining traction as a filmmaker outside of Italy and in the United States on a scale that many of her contemporaries were baffled by and unable to attain themselves. In 1975, Swept Away won Top Foreign Film awarded by the National Board of Review in the United States and the following year, this period of highly celebrated creative output culminated in the 1976 film, Seven Beauties, for which she became the first female director to be nominated for an Oscar. This film, which again features Giannini in the lead role, pushes Wertmüller’s specific brand of tragic comedy to its limits, following a self-obsessed Casanova from a small Italian town who is sent to a German concentration camp. The film was initially met with controversy due to Wertmüller’s frankness in her rendering of the apparatuses of genocide as well as her perceived macabre insensitivity towards its survivors, but since has been widely celebrated and accepted as her masterwork.
She signed a contract with Warner Bros. to make four films and her first for them was her first English language film, titled A Night Full of Rain, which was entered into the 28th Berlin International Film Festival in 1978. The film was not a success and Warner cancelled the contract.
Her 1983 film A Joke of Destiny was entered into the 14th Moscow International Film Festival in 1985 and Camorra (A Story of Streets, Women and Crime) was entered into the 36th Berlin International Film Festival in 1986.
In 1985, she received the Women in Film Crystal Award for outstanding women who, through endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry.
After this period of acclaim, Wertmüller began to fade out of international prominence, although she continued to expediently release films well into the 1980s and 90s. Some of these films were sponsored by American financiers and studios, yet they failed to have the breadth of reach that her 1970s output achieved. While these films are less widely seen and were neglected or disparaged by most, films like Summer Night (1986), Ferdinando & Carolina (1999), and Ciao, Professore are retroactively thought of as worthwhile.
She is known for her whimsically prolix movie titles. For instance, the full title of Swept Away is Swept away by an unusual destiny in the blue sea of August. These titles were invariably shortened for international release. She is entered in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest film title: Un fatto di sangue nel comune di Siculiana fra due uomini per causa di una vedova. Si sospettano moventi politici. Amore-Morte-Shimmy. Lugano belle. Tarantelle. Tarallucci e vino. That 1979 movie with 179 characters is better known under the international titles Blood Feud or Revenge.
Wertmüller was married to Enrico Job (died 4 March 2008), an art designer who worked on several of her pictures.
In 2015, Wertmüller was the subject of a biographical film directed by Valerio Ruiz titled Behind the White Glasses, in which she reflects on her life’s work.
Wertmüller continues to work as a director in the theater.
Giannini made his film debut in a small part in I criminali della metropoli in 1965. He appeared in supporting roles in Anzio and The Secret of Santa Vittoria, and starred in the original version of Swept Away. In 1967, he was a special guest on an episode of Mina’s TV show “Sabato Sera”. In 1971, he appeared in E le stelle stanno a guardare, a television adaptation of A. J. Cronin’s novel, The Stars Look Down.
Giannini won a Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor for his performance in Love and Anarchy (1973). In 1976, he starred in Seven Beauties, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. Giannini is known for his starring roles in films directed by Lina Wertmüller. In addition to Seven Beauties and Swept Away, he also appeared in The Seduction of Mimi, Love and Anarchy, A Night Full of Rain, and Francesca e Nunziata.
Giannini has also achieved some international success. His fluency in English has brought him a number of featured roles in Hollywood productions, most notably as Inspector Pazzi in Hannibal. He also appeared in Man on Fire. Giannini played Alberto Aragón in A Walk in the Clouds in 1995, and Emperor Shaddam IV in the 2000 Dune miniseries. In 2002, he starred in the horror film Darkness. He later portrayed French agent René Mathis in the James Bond films Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008).
Voice acting career
Giannini has had a successful career as a voice actor and dubber. He helped with the foundation of the C.V.D. along with Renato Turi, Corrado Gaipa, Valeria Valeri, Oreste Lionello, Wanda Tettoni and other dubbers.
Giannini is the official Italian voice dubber of Al Pacino. Both he and Ferruccio Amendola were the primary dubbers of Pacino until Amendola’s death in 2001 when Giannini became the sole voice dubber. He also dubbed Jack Nicholson’s voice as Jack Torrance in the Italian release of The Shining and the Joker in Batman and Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street and the 2010 sequel as well as dubbing other actors such as Dustin Hoffman, Gérard Depardieu, Ryan O’Neal, Jeremy Irons, Mel Gibson, Tim Allen, Leonard Whiting and Ian McKellen in some of their work.
In Giannini’s animated roles, he voiced Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner) in the Italian dub of the Pixar film Up. He also provided the Italian voice of Raul Menendez in the Call of Duty game franchise. Outside of dubbing, he provided a voice role in the 2001 Italian animated film Momo in which he voiced the main antagonist.