Lina Wertmüller

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John Simon

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That Wertmüller's new film, The End of the World in Our Usual Bed in a Night Full of Rain, is an almost total failure should, on reflection, not be surprising. This is the story of the courtship and marriage of a young American woman photographer and an Italian journalist … which has to carry several bone-crushing burdens….

Though the film is adequately Englished, it has clearly been thought and felt in Italian, and thinking and feeling are much harder to translate than words. The result is a certain crude oversimplification of plot and character—to say nothing of dialogue—that is very different from Wertmüller's usual healthy vulgarity studded with flashes of poetry.

Secondly, for the first time in her film-making career, the director was creating something intended to be serious drama; yet her background in comedy obtruded comic timing, comic situations, vaguely comic turns of phrase on what was meant to express a sad reality: the realization that love grows tyrannical and onerous; that sex turns mechanical; that spouses become each other's jailers and victims, with the captive as much a tormentor as the turnkey. The Fellinian verbal and visual language proved simply inadequate to the Bergmanian theme….

Furthermore, the project was too ambitious. The husband and wife are distinctly meant to assume symbolic dimensions. He is the Old World, she the New; their inability to thrive with each other brings about that preternatural rain that keeps raining throughout, until it becomes another Noah's Flood, from which no ark may sail forth…. [The effect of the chorus surrounding the couple] is particularly obtrusive, offensive, and essentially anti-cinematic….

Another hurtful virtue here is that visual excellence Wertmüller's films consistently display. The splendid cinematography … merely [dwarfs] what goes on in front of [it], making it appear even more strident and trivial. Does this leave anything of value? Well, the first encounter of the future spouses at a religious procession in Padula has a few good moments; a scene in a San Francisco night spot in which Giannini jealously watches Bergen torment him as she clingingly dances with another man is effective…. Such rare good moments can, like the visual riches, contribute only sadness about what might have been—and what may again be in this gifted and undauntable woman's next picture. (p. 417)

John Simon, "Through Babel to the Flood," in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1978; 150 East 35th St., New York, NY 10016), Vol. XXX, No. 13, March 31, 1978, pp. 416-17.

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