Swept Away – 1974
aka Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto
Review by Zetes
Keeps reinventing itself; highly recommended,
A film that’s exceedingly difficult to pin down. It would be easy to dismiss it, but it’s just as easy to be startled and amazed by it. The story’s simple enough: a shaggy, dark-skinned man (played by Giancarlo Gianni) works under the thumb of the bourgoisie on a hired yacht. He despises them, and they despise him. One of these rich people is particularly annoying, a blonde woman (Mariangelo Melato), who spends her days incessantly bitching, spouting capitalist slogans, and putting down the servant class.
These two characters, not surprisingly, end up together on a dinghy whose motor has broken. She never shuts up, he stares at her murderously. They eventually land on a deserted island, where he refuses to help her whatsoever. She eventually has to submit to whatever abuses he chooses to dish out. Yes, that does include physical and eventually a near-rape, which will certainly disgust and upset a lot of the film’s audience.
The film can actually be sort of perverse. I’m sure many have marvelled that, with some of the film’s crueller scenes, the film was directed by a woman. It is actually, in its way, nearly as perverse at some times as The Night Porter, directed in the very same year in Italy, also by a woman. That film’s merits are more dubious than Swept Away’s, however. The film is unexpectedly hilarious, at least for the first forty-five minutes or so.
When the abuse starts, the film begins to shift to a social issues picture. Class issues are important, as well as racial issues (which kind of amount to the same thing). I didn’t mind seeing the woman verbally abused – she spent the first forty-five minutes doing the same to the guy. The smackings she receives were hard for even me to take, however. The politics are nevertheless exceedingly interesting. The film has some very good material on the social constructions of class.
After this section of the film, the story shifts to erotica, and it is very erotic at times. In this section, the film is a direct descendent of Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (as was The Night Porter, incidentally). After that, the film shifts once again to romantic melodrama, as the two are rescued. The man makes the decision to signal a yacht that he sees in the distance simply because he wants to test the deep love that the woman swears by.
These shifts in narrative can be clearly felt, like upshifting in a manual transmission vehicle, but it works rather well. I was always right with the film with its emotions (although it took me a good twenty minutes to get into the film). I ended up rather loving it, despite its flaws.
Now I actually want to see the Madonna version to see how bad that hack Guy Ritchie screwed it up. At one point in the film the man tells the woman that she looks like the Madonna. Pretty funny, no? 9/10.