Love and Anarchy

Love and Anarchy ★★★★

OK, I'll admit, I watched none of the films nominated for Oscars this year, and I realise that makes my following comments ludicrously ill-informed. Nevertheless, I bet you I'm at least 90% right. Basically, my issue with modern film is - what happened to the art? Critical reception these days seems primarily based on actor performances over all other aspects of film-making - with an unhealthy dash of political-correctness-fervour thrown in.

Let me present Love and Anarchy as an example of film which no one seems capable of making these days. For me, the real value of Wertmuller's film is the texture she throws into her images. As Tunin (Giancarlo Giannini) walks into the brothel-bedroom of Salome (Mariangela Melato), we are treated to a vision of high-contrast decor, artfully positioned. The camera is low-placed and swoops up to show us a fractured image of Melato's legs reflected back from ceiling mirrors as her upper half occupied the lower half of the frame. It's not done in any kind of overly-flourished, attention grabbing way - it's just one of hundreds of thoughtfully composed shots in this finely crafted film.

Fine craft is the concept here. Films from the 70's often had this sense of being hand-crafted by skilled artisans. I'm purposely separating "craft" from the concept of "art" - of course, cinema from this era was art of the highest order, but your appreciation of such is subjective. Craftsmanship, on the other hand, is an objective, physical trait. Very few films these days have that ring of craftsmanship, and this movie is dripping with it.

Anyway, I'll quit the moaning. If you foolish young whippersnappers are all satisfactorily off my lawn, I'll focus on the movie itself a bit.

I appreciate that many will find this movie a tad slow. I actually agree that it's probably about half an hour too long for its own good. But this flaw is perhaps an inevitable result of the fact that Lina Wertmuller is in no hurry at all. She wants to bring us into this world of fascist-ruled Italy and, more concertedly, the little social milieu of this Roman brothel. It's all about fine detail for a good stretch of its length, and the melodrama doesn't become apparent until the second half of the film.

The performances are totally on-point. Giannini plays wide-eyed and awkward and introverted - a long throw from his usual stock in trade these days. Melato is effortlessly charismatic. Lina Polito is hard not to fall in love with as Tripolina, convincingly innocent yet convincing as a hooker too. And Eros Pagni symbolises the blind, brute force that held a country remorselessly under its thumb for so long.

Eventually, the lid blows off this pressure cooker of repressed emotions and the final act of the film is bleak as fuck. I found that strangely cathartic - tragic yes, but somehow necessary as the final puzzle piece required for this to all come together as a whole.

Love and Anarchy is a fascinating and absorbing film that you need to be content to hang out with for an extended period. Don't be in a hurry - give it some air - and you might find it enriches your life just a tiny little bit.

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