Catatonic Assassination

Love and Anarchy directed by Lina Wertmuller at the Allston Cinema

ITALIAN director Lina Wertmuller's quasi-historical movie "Love and Anarchy" aims a lopsided shot at two rather grand targets, and barely grazes its mark. Several strong, spirited scenes create atmosphere on the fringes of the story, but Wertmuller lacks the incisive directing to quicken her abstract themes and rescue them from a trite plot and a nearly catatonic hero.

Giancarlo Giannini plays an ignorant, country peasant (Tunin) so fearful of death he scarcely utters a complete sentence or moves a facial muscle throughout the movie. Tunin is bent on assassinating Mussolini to avenge the death of a friend by Fascist henchmen. He sells his cow and goes off to learn from the anarchist Brighenti gang how to shoot a pistol. Waiting for the dictator's appearance at a public rally, he hides out in one of Rome's highclass bordellos, only to be thwarted when two whores fall in love with him and fail to wake him on the appointed day.

This plot seems more aptly suited for comedy and is inadequate to convey any political messages Wertmuller intended. Her material is simple and scant, for the dim-witted peasant has no ideological beliefs to articulate and a thick blanket of fear stifles his emotions. Except for one drunken outburst and a wild frenzy at the end, his eyes are expressionless, with pupils the size of pinpoints.

Fortunately Wertmuller blossoms out when she develops the other, more superficial characters, and intersperses the dull story with irrelevant but delightfully hectic scenes at the bordello. Salome, Tunin's contact in the city (played with spirit and finesse by Mariangela Melato), is blessed with all the wit and energy he lacks. With the tough elegance and self-assurance of a top whore in a classy joint, she adds a crucial dimension of sensuality and realism. Salome's bawdy repartees offer Wertmuller just the link she needs to trigger off comic scenes. Her vivid style is distinctly reminiscent of Fellini (with whom she worked on "8 1/2"), especially in portraying the banter and gossip of twenty girls gorging themselves at dinner.

THE FILM is further disjointed by a huge block of time spent on a caricature of a superpig Fascist, Spatoletti, who patronizes Salome, calling her his "golden ass." Images pile on top of images--Spatoletti's round head sheathed in a leather motorcycle cap; his high black boots and fisheye goggles; a demonic grimace; an imperial pose in the arms of an ice-blue marble statue eerily lit at night; an encounter with a peasant who lost two fingers to Spatoletti's knife and now jokes nervously, "I make the sign of the cuckhold when I salute Il Duce." Wertmuller is certainly in her element as she manipulates these images. But somehow the caricature, adept as it is, seems gratuitous. A brute is a brute, and this stereotyping does little to amplify Tunin's personal hatred of Mussolini.

A final touch of humor sneaks through again, almost perversely, at the end. Tunin goes berserk when he finds he's been betrayed, but can only manage a ludicrous escape attempt, first sprawling ignominiously on the cobblestones and then falling flat on his face on a table loaded with cabbages.

It is not the fault of a scared peasant that he fails at both love and anarchy. That is only to be expected. But if Wertmuller had been more sensitive to the incongruous effect she was creating, perhaps his heroism would have been shown in the light of its real tragedy, or at one step removed, its irony.