Lina Wertmüller David Bartholomew - Essay

David Bartholomew

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In Let's Talk About Men, a film made up of four short tales and a connective story, Lina Wertmuller talks about anarchy, love, seduction, beauty. And men, although the drive of this film—and of most of her films—is provided by its women. (p. 47)

Let's Talk About Men is a disappointment. Only the last story, with some notion of applying camera movement and mise-en-scène to theme, looks ahead to the sleek styling of later Wertmuller. The stories are all set-bound, talky and roughly edited…. The last story in the film is evidence that Wertmuller's talent needs only the shaping of experience.

Seen in retrospect, this early film remains one of Wertmuller's most pessimistic expressions of her consistently warring individuals, played out with little hope of appeasement or understanding on a grid of sex, politics, tradition, and economics. Unlike in the later films, the lines of good and evil are split along surprisingly morbid sexual boundaries alone. No other factors seem to matter. Her women here, excepting the peasant, have little to do but look pretty … and provide a toy-like sexual amusement for their men. All the men are unsuitable, unvarying from class to class, no matter their educational, societal, cultural, or economic strata. The film is a study of triumph-less women-forsaken, abused, suffering—their survival, even in a pietistic, 'Ma Joad' sense, can't be counted on. Even among the more traditionally down-trodden—the poor—there is no hope for revolt. The fourth tale does allow its women a community, although unlike the men's, based on leisure camraderie, it is formed of work and pain, enforcing its own powerlessness, and the two are totally separate, joined only during sex and then unwillingly.

This strident film's 'light' comedy—the touch-all-bases entertainment the producer may have hoped he was producing—is colored black. Over and beyond the end-title plays a furious Italian imitation of an American pop tune. Two of the lines read: "You're a cretin, baby … but that's how I like it." (p. 48)

David Bartholomew, "'Let's Talk About Men'," in Cinéaste (copyright © 1977 by Gary Crowdus), Vol. VII, No. 4, 1977, pp. 47-8.