Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Seduced and Abandoned (1964) - Directed by Pietro Germi


I must admit I’m not quite as familiar with Italian comedies as I'd like to be. If there are others as good as Seduced and Abandoned then you can consider me a fan, though. Pietro Germi’s film from 1964 is a whirling dervish of hilarious farce and satirical absurdities. And it’s all devilishly funny in a way that could only be funny coming from Italy. Somehow this film strikes me as uniquely Italian, playing on familial pride, Catholicism, and the workings and churnings of tradition. All of the comedy plays extremely effectively in the Italian language because the physicality is front and center. There’s not much subtlety here and this film is all the better for it. 



This film starts with a quick and sudden seduction of a 16 year-old girl named Agnese (Stefania Sandrelli) by her sister’s fiancĂ© named Peppino (Aldo Puglisi). After a large meal, everyone is konked out except for Peppino and Agnese. He grabs her and takes her into a back room where unseen things take place. She is quickly thrown into a tizzy by these proceedings and her suspicious behavior is picked up by her mother….who in a fit of fearful anticipation….ahem….takes an examination of her daughter and determines, yes she has not only lost her virginity, but is also pregnant. Of course her father Don Vincenzo Ascalone (a fantastic Saro Urzi whose performance is pure brilliance) soon becomes a raging lunatic: banishing her to the basement (where she is forced to beg to use the bathroom), pursuing and threatening the sexual predator and trying to force him into marrying the girl, concocting a scam in which his other daughter can get a replacement fiancĂ©, and generally trying to maintain some sense of rule and order within his clan.


This film is one of the best comedies that I’ve seen in sometime and it came out of nowhere for me. I had literally no expectations when sitting down to watch as I'd never heard of it. Much of the comedy comes at the satirical expense of Catholic traditions, and familial honor. The father’s sweaty, exasperated attempts to keep his daughter from ridicule and to allow the family name to have some semblance of respect is really the meat of the film. I’m sure that today, this film wouldn’t quite work in the modern sense....it's too morally antiquated for that. But seen as a nostalgic look back at a simpler time, it is really funny. Germi even includes plenty of surreal dreamlike sequences, adding a bit of the "Bunuel" to the proceedings. However the aim here is far more lowbrow and common than Bunuel. Germi is aiming at the gut.



Aiochi Parolin’s magnificent and crisp b&w cinematography adds an artistic bent, but not so much that it makes the film inaccessible. The visuals always seems at the behest of the comedy, not from any sort of artistic pretension. The use of the fish-eye camera at times adds to the circus-like proceedings. Germi, though, is careful never to dig the knife in too deeply. You can sense the affection for Italians here and he’s never particularly mean. These events are shown in a light in which the conniving and the ridiculing never quite overcome the power of the family and one comes away with an admiration for the zeal and care for which the father breaks his back for his family. His love is real and the family is the heart of the matter. What a joyful and funny film this is.

5 comments:

Joel Bocko said...

Have you seen Divorce Italian Style? It's the only other Germi I've seen, and I remember preferring it at the time. This one is often funny, but a lot of times it made me cringe and I'm not sure in the way the director intended. I mean, isn't she basically raped in the beginning? Differing historical/cultural sensibilities to be sure...

Joel Bocko said...

Not that that one's very PC either. The woman he wants to leave (or perhaps even kill) his wife for is about 14 years old...and his cousin.

Jon said...

I have NOT seen Divorce Italian Style but it's on my list to see. I'm not saying the film isn't darkly humorous and over the top, which it is. Yes it is assumed that's she's raped, however she also is somewhat in love with the guy too I thought. She feigns being distraught to get attention and all. There's that moment she writes the letter to him and wets the paper so it looks like she's crying. I thought it was very edgy for sure....but comedy is often very edgy.

Sam Juliano said...

Agreed Jon, that "the visuals are always at the behest of the comedy" and what a comedy this is! The darkest of dark comedy, a scathing satire on sexual hypocrisy, with the most macabre of sensibilities. Audacious and lively, and with a dash of depravity for good measure. I like the film a lot, if not quite as much as DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE, but your marvelous appraisal Jon calls out for a re-viewing!

Jon said...

Thanks Sam! Yeah this film is devilishly clever and you're right, the sexual hypocrisy is front and center as part of the satire. I will need to see Divorce Italian Style as I'm sure I will like it. Hope you're safe and sound!