Lina Wertmüller Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Wertmuller's best work to date, such films as Seven Beauties, All Screwed Up, The Seduction of Mimi … had superb vigor, the zest of real assurance and real skill, and a rococo filigree that she had learned from Fellini…. Most of her film-making energies are in [The End of the World in Our Usual Bed in a Night Full of Rain], too, but unlike her past work, they are not applied to very much. Here we get little more than the energies….

The picture begins and ends, as the title implies, in the marriage bed, with a number of flashbacks and excursions to explain what led up to it and what [the couple's] relations are. The story as such could hardly be more stale, but what keeps reminding us of its staleness is the lack of characterization. We get lots of (reminiscent) furiously romantic scenes … and we got a lot of talk about [the wife's] troubles, but there is no dramatized realization of what these troubles are. They are simply stated, like items in a feminist pamphlet.

The odd fact is that, though Wertmuller is trying to say something about the perplexities of modern women, whatever characterization she achieves is with the husband. No, it's not so odd. Wertmuller knows him, knows that he's no less a male-chauvinist Italian husband for being a Communist…. But Wertmuller clearly does not know anything about the American woman: the character comes out conventional, undifferentiated, unexplored. We don't even know, really, what life the woman is being kept from….

What makes the central weakness even more obvious is the feverish décor with which it's surrounded, as if something really momentous was being born. There's a recurrent chorus, a Fellinian gallery of overdressed women and a lesbian and eccentric men, all of whom hover symbolically in the bedroom and in other places, commenting in pseudo profundities about the main pseudo profundity….

In her best previous pictures Wertmuller's very conscious style was a luscious way of providing a needed esthetic distance. Here there is little for which we need such distance. Her ostensible subject is a troubled marriage. Her real subject is a worse marriage—between her and her American producers. (p. 24)

Stanley Kauffmann, "High-class Hoopla" (reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.; copyright © 1978 by Stanley Kauffmann), in The New Republic, Vol. 178, No. 7, February 18, 1978, pp. 24-5.