by William VanWert
Cut, no. 4, 1974, pp. 8-9
Lina Wertmuller's LOVE AND ANARCHY fails, quite simply because it promises too much in the title. In fact, the film isn't really concerned with either love or anarchy but rather with the invisible liaisons between the two. It fails, partly because one expects perhaps too much of Wertmuller knowing that she has worked with both Fellini and Resnais. The influence of both is pleasingly present in her film. Nevertheless, her film lacks both the circus audacity of Fellini's SATIRICON and ROMA and the studied poetic calm of Renais' NIGHT AND FOG or HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR. Wertmuller tackles love and politics, two of the most overworked and undernourished topics in film. Through good acting, interesting composition and fairly tight editing, she touches, but does not wallow in, all of the clichés in sex and politics— that is until the film's concluding sequences. As long as sex and politics are vaguely interrelated but kept apart, the film provides both tension and hope of an interesting synthesis. But when the two come together at the end (in the raucous Italian manner), the film becomes vaudeville instead of indictment. Instead of dialectic, the film ends up being yet another exercise in comparison and contrast. Because of the lack of any real synthesis, one leaves the film, reflecting not upon what one has seen but rather upon what one could have seen—but didn't.
The film is "framed" politically at the beginning and at the end. The opening scenes reveal the young Tunin's listening to his father and the anarchist, Michele, discuss the difference between socialists and anarchists. The boy asks his mother what an anarchist is. She answers, "Someone who kills a prince or a king and is hanged for it." After a time jump, we see the young boy grown up to be the freckled peasant Antonio Soffiantini. An older Michele comes to him and says, "I came back to kill Mussolini. Screw the rest." Tunin watches as Michele is shot by police. As the camera cuts, we know that Tunin will take Michele's place. This prologue is too scanty politically to be convincing. Wertmuller would have us believe that a kind of Freudian imprinting of the idea of anarchy upon the young Tunin and the trauma of seeing Michele shot are sufficient to transform Tunin from naive peasant to anarchist engagé. If taken literally, this prologue is an insult to Kropotkin, Bakunin, Malatesta and other anarchists, for whom anarchy was a sophisticated political philosophy (with manifestoes and concrete programs), and not just a caprice explainable in Freudian psychology.
The rest of the film revolves around the whorehouse where Tunin's contact is the fiery Salome (Mariangela Melato). Again, basic psychology enters in. Salome is a whore because her former fiancé was an anarchist who was caught and killed by the police. There was nothing else for her to do but change her name and become a whore. But she is the patrician whore of the house (easily recognizable because she is the only one with blonde hair). Her customers are the highest officers of the Fascist militia, from whom she always demands payment (only with Tunin does she offer free sex) and extorts political information.
The Fascist par excellence in the film is Spatoletti, the head of Mussolini's Security Service. Spatoletti is also Salome's most faithful customer. Spatoletti takes Salome, Tunin, and Tripolina (Lina Poleito) on a Sunday outing prior to the July 8th rally, at which Tunin is to assassinate Mussolini. It is during this outing that politics re-emerges to the surface in connection with both sex and religion. For example, Spatoletti and the innkeeper, Romoletto, seem to be good friends. We find out that Spatoletti and the Fascists cut off two of Romoletto's fingers, because he (Romoletto) was suspected of being an anarchist. Romoletto laughs and says,
"Now when I make the Roman salute, there's a political snag. I make the sign of the cuckold."
Later, Spatoletti tries to convince Salome that she should give him a "free lay." She answers, "Not even with the Pope." After Spatoletti and Tunin have dropped Salome and Tripolina (with whom Tunin has fallen in love) off at the "house," they go off on Spatoletti's motorcycle to what looks suspiciously like the fountain of Trevi). They are both drunk. The brutish Spatoletti proceeds to goad Tunin into two arguments, one about politics, and the other about sex. Significantly, Tunin is hopelessly romantic (naive) on both subjects. Spatoletti begins with politics, "Now would be a good time to have some fun like we did in the old days—forcing castor oil down the anarchists' throats." Tunin tenses up. Spatoletti continues, "Your so-called 'masses,' they're starved pygmies. They'd sell their souls." Tunin answers, "Misery, Commandant, is for the masses, while courage is for gentlemen." When Spatoletti merely shrugs, Tunin continues: "I've been told it's better to bow down and live than to stand up and die." If the prime weapon of any anarchist is his secrecy, then Tunin is not a very good anarchist. He reveals himself whenever and wherever he can. Spatoletti shifts gears and belittles Tunin on the subject of sex.
"You see, a Fascist never pays for a woman. But Salome —with Salome, you've got to pay. But that Tripolina of yours is a real piece of shit. You're in love with a whore!"
Tunin's naiveté with women becomes a not-too-subtle metaphor for his naiveté in politics. To calm his frazzled nerves, he practices shooting a rifle at a carnival (he had told Salome earlier that he was used to pistols and that he didn't trust rifles). The carnival woman says to him, "You've been shooting all morning." Tunin answers, "I'm scaring my thoughts away." The woman responds, "You need a fiancée for that."
As if she had pushed a magic button, the film inexplicably shifts again. Wertmuller focuses on the agitation in the whorehouse prior to the political rally. It's clear that Tunin alone is not sexually deviant. The women are all costumed out of Fellini, and the men are grotesques: the "pervert professor" who is a "pants shitter," the old commandant who watches stag films, etc.. At this point, the carnival woman proves prophetic, for Tunin does indeed take Tripolina for his fiancée. Their "falling in love" (itself abnormal under the circumstances) is contrasted with the sexual-political excitement surrounding the Fascists. One of the whores exclaims, "For some reason they always get horny on a day like this."
Wertmuller seems to succumb to the easy film clichés of such an idyllic interlude before the mad scramble finale. All characters slow down their movements. The lights are toned down to a kind of twilight coloring, so that the grotesqueness of the Fellini-like faces becomes almost beautiful. And guitar music is added.
It's at this point that Tunin confesses his intentions to Tripolina and his false identity to Salome.
Tunin: I must carry it out, even though I'm not a true anarchist.
Salome: You are an outsider. You don't belong. Why the sacrifice if you don't belong?
Tunin: When I do it, I'll belong?
Salome: Of course.
It may be in character for the naive Tunin to fall in love. But Wertmuller stretches our credibility when both Tripolina and Salome turn out to be in love with Tunin. But something this outlandish is needed to explain why they let Tunin oversleep. The hardcore anarchist, at that point, would have made a new plan. But Tunin is a psycho-anarchist. So he feels compelled to kill, in order to belong to a cause he doesn't understand.
Enter the epilogue. The whores fade out, as Tunin kills several soldiers and is in turn killed himself. Wertmuller's style at this point is pure Costa-Gavras (perhaps a little less mechanical, a little more frantic). And despite the quote from Malatesta at the end, to the effect that violence is not condoned but that assassins are often saints, anarchy remains unexplained.
There is one possible reading of the film that does make sense to me and which ties sex and anarchy together: as a comic spoof. As such, all characters can be viewed as types who play more (frightening, in the case of Spatoletti) or less (comic in the case of Salome and Tripolina) successfully to other types. The characters live by romantic myths that are so exaggerated as to be comic. They would structure their lives like the plots of movies and books. For instance, Salome tells Tunin, "Mine is the Mirror Room. They call it the Arabian Nights Room." Thus, Spatoletti's nickname for Salome takes on added literary meaning, Golden Ass. At another point, one of the whores shows Salome a magazine and says, "That's where you copied Jean Harlow's hairdo from." Salome, herself, is not unaware of the spoof. She introduces Tunin to one of the Fascist militiamen as her cousin and adds, "... like in Alice in Wonderland." When Tunin, the hopeless romantic, says to Tripolina, "Tripoli—the beautiful land of love," she destroys the allusion with one of her own. "Yes, I changed my name because of Rudolph Valentino and THE SHIEK," Tunin himself is caught in the spoof. After he shoots the soldiers (who have only come to the house for a VD checkup), he shouts, "Long live anarchy," and puts the pistol barrel to his mouth. But there are no more bullets. He cannot even manage his own suicide.
This particular reading does credit to Wertmuller's intelligence without, however, justifying her shabby treatment of love and anarchy. Sex and politics do not, I think, have to be diluted to be made interesting. Nor do they have to be given a "case history" format (Costa-Gavras) to be made authentic. In other words, narrative, in and of itself, does not necessarily fictionalize political ideas (see Brecht, for example).
Wertmuller's LOVE AND ANARCHY bears a striking resemblance to Jean-Paul Sartre's play, Dirty Hands (Les Mains Sales) in which Hugo, not unlike the Tunin figure, is assigned to assassinate Hoederer. Hugo cannot kill his man for political reasons, and Hoederer tells him, "Assassins are born, not made." Hugo does, however, kill Hoederer for playing around with Jessica, Hugo's wife. But Sartre is not content with this sex-politics interlock. Indeed, it is the last scene, in which Hugo, having become a true politico in prison, decides on his own death and sacrifices himself (in order to give Hoederer's assassination meaning), which gives the play its lasting strength and appeal.
Thus, Wertmuller cannot be excused for pioneering, for having no precedents to follow. Nor can she be excused, I think, on feminist grounds, for several of her women colleagues have achieved remarkable results with the sex-politics interlock. I am thinking, for example, of Vera Chytilova's DAISIES (1966), Mai Zetterling's THE GIRLS (1968), and Nelly Kaplan's A VERY CURIOUS GIRL (1969), all of which deal both innovatively and audaciously with love and anarchy. On the male side, Godard's LES CARABINIERS (1963) and PIERROT LE FOU (1965) deal much more effectively with love and anarchy than does Wertmuller. In other words, anarchy in content is not possible (believable) without a corresponding anarchy in form.