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Damiano Damiani is perhaps the Italian filmmaker most inspired by American cinema. He links political commitment to excellent thriller style. "La moglie piu' bella" is still shocking for me, knowing it is inspired by the true story of Franca Viola in 1965. The atmosphere is disquieting thanks to the the film-making and Ennio Morricone's music. This is also the first film of Ornella Muti, who was 14 years old at the time and pretended to be ill not to go to school for two months - the time of recording. It reminds me "La ragazza con la pistola" (The girl with the gun) by Mario Monicelli with Monica Vitti, although this one is much more ironic and aims at ridiculing certain Sicilians customs to better fight them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Most Beautiful Wife is the kind of movie I usually avoid. I usually
don't go for these overly depressing tales. But The Most Beautiful Wife
is oddly compelling and drew me in from the start. The film is based on
a true story and deals with the barbaric treatment of women (who am I
kidding, these are girls) at the hands of their future husbands. Rape
was an acceptable means of forcing a marriage. No other man would want
the woman as she was no longer a virgin.
But as depressing as the subject matter may be, director Damiano Damiani and cinematographer Franco Di Giacomo created an incredibly lovely film with The Most Beautiful Wife. The contrast between the green, lush farm lands and the crumbling city scenes is pleasing. And Ennio Morricone's score is what I've come to expect a work of genius. It suits the film perfectly.
Ornella Muti gives a terrific performance in the title role. And when you consider that this was her first film and that she was only 14 years old, it makes all the more amazing. As the whole film is centered around her and as she is the focal point of almost every scene, it's imperative that her performance be believable if The Most Beautiful Wife has a chance at all to work. She pulls it off flawlessly. I doubt an actress twice her age with years of experience could have done any better. It's an impressive piece of work.
Ornella Muti has always been an interesting actress. Like a lot of her
Italian contemporaries--Eleanora Giorgi, Jenny Tamburi, Gloria
Guida--she has been in a lot of "exploitative" roles and movies (in one
movie of hers I saw, for instance, her character willingly loses her
virginity to her own father), but unlike these other actresses she has
also managed to turn in a lot of superb roles in more highbrow art
films, and her career has thus lasted a lot longer. On the other hand,
her courage in choosing film roles has also allowed her to endure a lot
longer than a lot of American actresses who never want to risk doing
anything that might be exploitative and as a result never do anything
really interesting either. The director Damiano Damiani is the same
way--he's done art films like this, on one hand, but some the most
exploitative trash imaginable (like "Amityville Horror 2"), on the
other, but his films are rarely less than interesting.
This movie based on true story is about a young Sicilian girl (Muti) who is raped by the son of a Mafia don who is trying to force her to marry him by taking her virginity, but she instead goes to the police, which is something women just didn't do at the time (and something only a few brave souls in Sicily ever did to the Mafia). Muti is really good, which isn't that surprising perhaps, but so is her future husband, Alessio Oranio, who plays the mafioso, and who I had always pegged as a talentless pretty-boy. It may seem hard to believe the androgenously handsome Oranio would have to rape anyone (although it seemed to be his specialty for some reason--he also raped Jane Birkin in "May Morning", a drugged Elke Summer in "Lisa and the Devil", and Femi Benussi, kind of, in "The Killer Must Kill Again."). It's made clear in this movie, however, that the abduction and rape is a matter of pride, not sex, after this beautiful but poor peasant girl spurns the wealthy and vain young man's proposal of marriage.
I don't want to give away too much more of the plot, but it is a well-directed and well-acted and ultimately very powerful film. It's not one of Muti's more exploitative roles (she was only fourteen at the time), but she had plenty of those too. Check this one out for sure.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Most Beautiful Wife" is another triumph of writer-director Damiano
Damiani. Of his pictures, I've seen so far Lipstick (1960), Arturo's
Island (1962), A Bullet for the General (1966), Day of the Owl (1968),
Confessions of a Police Captain (1971), The Case Is Closed, Forget It
(1971), How to Kill a Judge (1975), I Am Afraid (1977), and Un Uomo in
Ginocchio (1979). These are all very good to excellent films. Damiani's
films are intelligent, gripping, rich in themes, and skillfully done.
He is sensitive to human nature in its richness, both individually and
socially, and he brings it out in his films. Damiani is relatively
unknown to American audiences as compared with Pasolini, De Sica,
Antonioni, Rossellini, Visconti, Bertolucci, and Fellini. Damiani is
underrated. He belongs in this company.
"The Most Beautiful Wife" tells the story of a young mafia man (Alessio Orano) who chooses as a prospective wife a young, poor and beautiful girl (Ornella Muti). As the nephew of the powerful local don, Orano assumes that his desire is law. He's assisted in this belief by years of history that have made the local people subservient, compliant and powerless. We see how Sicilian society is compliant in the young man's attitude and behavior and eventually his crime. Even her own father reluctantly is, as he himself puts it, a coward and a bastard in the face of Orano. The local police head (Pierluigi Apra) wants evidence and cooperation of witnesses, but we see how difficult this is to get from a people that is cowed.
The story shows the social background without fuss or fanfare, without hammering us over the head. What it focuses on instead is the battle of wills between Orano who wants Muti and her refusal to accept him, even though she wants him, because he refuses to acknowledge her as a person and treat her with respect. He has not competed for her on just grounds but has driven away her suitor by threat. She has her pride, and he has his. She won't be taken for granted. He won't be pinned down or accede to a woman. Her case is morally superior, for he rapes her as a means to make her now his. This is the custom, rape being what is socially accepted as a means that necessarily leads to a marriage. She still refuses. The battle between them escalates as she files charges against him. The story is based on an actual case. She also is battling her father and the women in the village who support custom.
The interactions and conflicts of Muti and Orano are the heart of the film, deeply revealing their characters. Muti's resistance shows her own courage and the hidden fear at Orano's core.
Damiano Damini, the director of "La Moglie Piu Bella", two years earlier,in 1968, had made a movie about "la Mafia" titled "Il Giorno Della Civetta" starring Franco Nero, Claudia Cardinale and Lee J. Cobb. It was a stark tale, showing the helplessness of the law enforcers in front of the resignedly accepted power of the Mafia. In 1970 he had another project about the Organization, the story, loosely based in real facts, of the first Italian woman that refused the reparation by marriage of her lost honor. Instead she had the courage to denounce the violence that she suffered, at the local police station. It was very important to choose someone special for acting the leading role. Damiano Damiani chose the teenager Ornella Muti (14 years old), without previous experiences in front of the camera, to play the humbled girl, Francesca Cimarosa, who, at first, is very shy and submissive but gradually becomes a strong character person, fighting for her dignity even against her own parents that are frightened because of intimidation of the Mafia. It was said by Ornella Muti in several interviews, that she was making company to her older sister Claudia Rivelli, who was herself in search of a role in pictures when, suddenly, by pure chance, was saw by Damiani and that was all. Overnight, the teenager that was dreaming about being an actress, was in front of the camera, in an exigent leading role, making her cinematic debut under the implacable and experienced hand of Damiani. In my opinion it was a superb choice. Ornella was beautiful, shy, reserved, intense, brave and she was capable of projecting these qualities to the screen, reaching this way, the heart and the interest of the audience. An authentic natural talent, not always appreciated during the long career of the diva, always eclipsed by the sheer beauty and sexiness of her physique. Alesio Orano, future first husband of Ornella Muti in real life, plays the part of the nephew of the "local capo". At that time, he was a heartthrob, handsome, long dark hair and blue eyes. He is the dream love of the young heroine but also he possesses a streak of cruelty and he is absolutely perfect in his role. Gaetano Cimarrosa is excellent, acting as the intimidated father and Pierluigi Aprá is very efficient as the local "carabinieri", a helpless but honest police officer. It was said that this film is about feminism, but I consider it a story that has to do with the basic human dignity and choosing to live without fear in a society whose ethical values are profoundly twisted by the existence of the shady and stealth hand of the organized crime.
Most other comments are right on the spot.
Excellent movie, good acting and marvellous music.
There are a few things i'd like to add. Sometimes, this film slows down a bit, but never long enough to It's not a genre movie at all, but if you would want to tag it, I'd give it a thriller label.
The main trouble with films like this is that it so hard to 'like' them. Not that this one is pure depressing, but you'll get to see a desperate world on the bottom of the mafia and the place where it has its roots. And it isn't like the godfather.
My final verdict is an 8 out of 10. There is nothing wrong with this movie, but it hasn't the 100% perfection for a higher score. Still, very gripping and plain good.
Starting from the surprisingly excellent "I am not scared" (strongly recommended), I started to become interested in Damiano Damani's movies and I was stunned to discover what a great and socially committed director he was! This movie surely ranks among his best. It deals with the condition of women in the regions of mafia, where mentality is so narrow and ignorant to become almost hilarious when not dramatic. The character played by the beautiful and very young Ornella Muti is a real marvel. In her village she is one of its kind: she is intelligent, sensible, has a strong temper, sense of justice and anti-conformist views. In other words she cannot easily merge in the social context she is growing in. The plot develops slowly and little by little one is sucked into the story thanks to a group of very good actors, a nice score by Morricone and mainly Damiani's masterful screenplay. The end is very touching, as the tears in the sensitive young girl represent the tragic but necessary result of a chain of events that it was impossible to stop. This movie, together with "L'istruttoria e' chiusa: dimentichi"; "Pizza Connection"; "Confessions of a Police Captain" and "Un uomo in ginocchio" should constantly pass through the Italian national TV schedules, as the lesson(s) is still far from being learnt.
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