Love and Anarchy
Passion and pity

by Patricia Erens

from Jump Cut, no. 2, 1974, p
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1974, 2004

In LOVE AND ANARCHY (1972; US release 1974) forty-four year old Italian writer/directress Lina Wertmuller offers a masterpiece that stuns both visually and emotionally. Juxtaposing the power of the historical fact against the frailty of the individual, Wertmuller focuses on the struggle of a youthful Italian revolutionary to accommodate two conflicting forces: the external political realities of a Fascist regime and his intimate feelings towards a beautiful young prostitute.

The opening montage sequence presents photographs of a militant Mussolini against the ominous tones of military drums, hysterical crowds, and the strident voice of Il Duce. In this arena Tunin, the peasant anarchist commissioned to shoot Benito Mussolini, and Tripolino, the Roman prostitute, play out the days of their lives. Their innocent and joyous love poignantly contrasts with the greater world’s pervasive oppression. Though never succumbing to heavy foreshadowing, Wertmuller creates a closed world where the options are few and where death seems inevitable. Yet when the inevitable occurs, we are, as in life, unprepared. Tunin’s capture and ultimate death create an overwhelming sense of pain. Resulting from the folly of a fearful moment, Tunin shares with his oppressors the responsibility for his fate. Thus we cry for his weakness; mourn for his pain.

In Rome, Tunin’s world is restricted to the bordello where he comes to make contact with Salome, an anarchist sympathizer. Played lustily by Mariangela Melato, Salome combines in her person both mother and whore. Masquerading as Tunin’s cousin, she becomes his protector and confessor. With Harlow-like hair and an aquiline nose, Salome easily shines as the house prima donna. Capable of fending for herself, she even tames superjock Spatoletti, head of Mussolini’s secret police. By contrast, Tripolino, sensitively played by Lina Polito, evinces an aura of innocent beauty. She reacts to Tunin’s sadness. Slowly penetrating his shy demeanor, she succeeds in dissolving the aloof facade erected by his intense dedication. Reluctant at first, Tunin is seduced by her warm gaiety, eventually even driven by pangs of jealousy. Against all odds, the two build a brief sanctuary, secure from the realities beyond the walls of the bordello.

But ultimately Tunin, played by Giancarlo Gianinni, carries the force of the drama. Red haired, freckled, awkward and quiet, Tunin incorporates within him the seeds of his own destruction—bitter hatred and gentle compassion. Unfortunately, love and anarchy prove mutually exclusive. Neither a legendary hero nor a political philosopher, Tunin does not possess the fortitude nor insight to rise above his predicament. His beliefs are simple; his actions direct. He represents the everyman victimized by political oppression—drawn into the flame like a moth as Salome correctly observes.

The film’s power reveals little to indicate a feminine sensibility. One exception occurs when Salome struggles with Tripolino over the “key” to Tunin’s fate, opting finally for love and life over political commitment and possible death. Thus like the women in Rossellini’s OPEN CITY and Visconti’s SENSO, she betrays the revolution by elevating personal feelings above historical imperatives.

Following her sabotage, she quips bitterly, “Never trust a whore.” The irony derives from years of derogatory attitudes towards prostitutes in particular and women in general. It is significant that most films depicting the Fascist period focus on women prostitutes, thus manifesting the tendency of Fascist governments to use and debase all people. As victim, Salome feels free to turn the prejudice against herself. The com-met has the sting of a truth suddenly revealed, as if Wertmuller had humanized the sour cynicism of Billy Wilder’s IRMA LA DOUCE.

Whether Wertmuller ultimately advocates love or anarchy is difficult to surmise. Certainly she is sympathetic to the need for human relationships. Traversing much of the same historical and thematic territory as her compatriots Luchino Visconti, Bernardo Bertolucci and Marco Bellochio, Wertmuller presents a more humane portrayal of those ensnared in life under a Fascist regime. Her film, like most in the current crop (Bertolucci’s CONFORMIST, Bellochio’s IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, Costa-Gavras’ Z and THE CONFESSION) establishes totalitarianism as a given, providing little understanding of the factors responsible for its rise. Unlike Visconti’s THE DAMNED and Bertolucci’s THE CONFORMIST, LOVE AND ANARCHY focuses on the antifascist rather than on the neurotic masochist who succumbs to Fascist ideology. Only Spatoletti appears as representative of the latter species. Following the tradition of Bertolucci, Bellochio and Costa-Gavras, Wertmuller reveals the inadequacy of individual acts to affect a meaningful change.

Echoing this theme, the film ends with a quotation from Malatesta, the nineteenth century anarchist, rejecting assassination as a political weapon. By depicting the cruelties which Tunin suffers at the hands of the Fascist. power, Wertmuller exposes the extent of the threat and the dangers of naiveté. Unfortunately, she offers no positive alternative to individual resistance. In the end, she undercuts the romantic illusions of Tunin and Tripolino, denying Tunin even the vestiges of a meaningful death. Stripped of all sentimentality, we are left with the stark realities and the taste of ashes.

Wertmuller’s skill in creating the extraordinary in the ordinary results in flesh and blood characters whose credibility is never subverted by heavy handed political messages or special effects. Her training as assistant director on Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963) appears evident in her presentation of the sirens and seductresses who inhabit the bordello. However, where Fellini’s women become grotesque caricatures, Wertmuller’s ladies. retain their earthy vitality. Despite the layers of makeup and the theatrical lights which bathe their faces, these women never dissolve into mere stereotypes.

The specter of Fellini also hovers over the histrionic scenes set among the buildings of the Campidoglio, the medieval seat of Roman power. Here, Michelangelo’s magnificent reconstructions serve as a backdrop for the confrontation between Tunin and Spatoletti. Standing astride the sculpture like “a Colossus,” Spatoletti reveals his neurotic lust for power and chilling indifference towards humanity. Arrogantly spewing out his disdain for the ordinary man, Spatoletti proposes a misogynous ideology which advocates the elevation of the few at the expense of the many. Ironically, however, the lines of battle are drawn over questions of love, not along political differences. Spatoletti’s tendency to use Salome as his favorite whore contrasts with Tunin’s genuine feelings for Tripolino. Their differing attitudes are a correlative to their political philosophies. By defending the tender, tentative feelings within him, Tunin reveals a humanity which tragically seals his fate.

Though Wertmuller favors a fluid camera style, again reminiscent of Bertolucci and Bellochio, she never allows this technique to become excessive. Demonstrating a firm control over both camera and actors, Wertmuller skillfully initiates a mood and then develops the scene to a dramatic peak. Benefiting from her theater training, she draws first rate performances from all her actors. As Tunin, Gianinni garnered top acting honors at Cannes.

The film’s most original and effective moments are three lyrical interludes which crystallize mood, rather than further plot. In these passages, Wertmuller demonstrates her ability to expose humor in the midst of dark circumstances—a quality recalling the sad humanism of Jean Renoir. For these passages Nino Rota, who scored most of the Fellini films, composed a witty accompaniment perfectly suited to the tragicomedy. Developed as montage sequences with a minimum of dialogue, these interludes allow Wertmuller the freedom to indulge her choreographic talents.

The first lyrical sequence depicts a breakneck motorcycle ride through the Italian countryside. Spatoletti, replete with helmet-like cap and goggles, whisks the three protagonists out of Rome for an “ideal” Sunday of eating and whoring. The country outing provides Tunin with the necessary opportunity to investigate one of Mussolini’s “new cities,” while Salome distracts Spatoletti with some indoor sport. The second sequence consists of a series of seduction scenes performed with high humor as the women begin the day’s business with a “good show.” The last filmic poem chronicles the two day, childlike holiday enjoyed by Tunin and Tripolino before life claims its final due. Each of these pieces are composed of memorable images which suggest unexpected psychological insights.

It is obvious with the success of LOVE AND ANARCHY, Wertmuller joins the front ranks of contemporary filmmakers. Her previous work as a scriptwriter and her ten year experience in the industry (she directed her first feature, THE LIZARDS, in 1963) have been good preparation for this film, which seduces with its charm and brutalizes with its power. For, despite the inevitability of the ending, we are not prepared for the duration of the suffering or the callousness with which Tunin is punished. We are stunned, left wide-eyed like the young hero. The film ends with a sense of pain for the beauty that was and a horror for that which is and an emptiness for that which could have been.