Seven Beauties [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (10th September 2017).
The Film

Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role: Giancarlo Giannini (nominated), Best Director: Lina Wertmüller (nominated), Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Lina Wertmüller (nominated), and Best Foreign Language Film (nominated) - Academy Awards, 1977
Golden Flobe for Best Foreign Film (nominated) - Golden Globes, 1977
DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures: Lina Wertmüller (nominated) - Directors Guild of America, 1977
Plate for Best New Actress: Francesca Marciano (won) - Golden Goblets, Italy 1976
NYFCC Award for Best Film, Best Director: Lina Wertmüller, and Best Screenplay: Lina Wertmüller (3rd Place) - New York Film Critics Circle Awards, 1977

Neapolitan hood Pasqualino Frafuso (Life is Beautiful's Giancarlo Giannini) – nicknamed "Settebellezze" (seven beauties) – lives by a rigid code of honor. As the only boy in a family of full of older and younger sisters, as well as a fussy mother (Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key's Ermelinda De Felice), Pasqualino must take into account the ways in which his sisters get by reflects on him, having had to drag older sister Concettina (Love & Anarch's Elena Fiore) out of a brothel floorshow and try to convince her that she does not have the makings of a star and that her "fiancé" Totonno (Mario Conti) is actually a pimp. When Don Raffaele (A Night Full of Rain's Enzo Vitale) informs him that Totonno has sold Concettina to a brothel – more out of concern for how it reflects on the Don's image – Pasqualino is forced to take action to protect his own honor. When Totonno humiliates him in a physical confrontation with brass knuckles, Pasqualino swears in public that he will kill him. Breaking into Totonno's apartment at night, he tries to get the fearful man to draw on him so that he can shoot him in self-defense but accidentally shoots him before discovering that he was unarmed. Advised by Don Raffaele to make Totonno disappear, he dismembers the corpse and spreads the parts between three bags but he is caught before he can put them on a train bound up north. Pasqualino honorably confesses to the crime in spite of the pleadings of his mother and sister, frustrating his lawyer (Blood Feud's Lucio Amelio) – procured by Concettina's new husband – who finally convinces Pasqualino to fake insanity to avoid being executed for the crime; instead, he is sent to an asylum. He fares no better among the inmates (including Salo's Aldo Valletti) than his brief stint in prison – where he established his insanity with impressions of Mussolini – and winds up in a straitjacket after sexually assaulting a restrained female inmate. His psychiatrist (Bianca D'Origlia), however, realizes that he is not insane and suggests that he could escape a prison sentence if he was diagnosed as cured and then volunteered for Mussolini's army. She warns him that he will most likely be killed on the front, but Pasqualino figures that he can desert once he is enlisted; which takes the viewer to the present tense of the story as he and antifascist comrade Francesco (Piero Di Iorio) are captured by German soldiers in the Black Forest and sent to a concentration camp. Disgusted at the passivity of the Jewish prisoners as random inmates are lined up and shot at the whim of the guards and the entertainment of visiting offices, not to mention Francesco's fearfulness and the resignation of anarchist Pedro (The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie's Fernando Rey), Pasqualino sees his only chance of survival may be in seducing the camp commandant (The Honeymoon Killers's Shirley Stoler), a plain, obese woman who his fellow inmates assure him is nothing but a cold sadist.

Although director Lina Wertmüller had already made a splash internationally and with American arthouse audiences with The Seduction of Mimi, Love & Anarchy, and Swept Away – the latter a cause célèbre with critics and audiences – Seven Beauties garnered four Academy Award nominations and had Hollywood banging down her door (resulting in a four-picture deal from Warner Bros. that was voided after A Night Full of Rain failed to stir mainstream audiences). Seven Beauties manages to be simultaneously emotionally devastating on an apocalyptic scale and blackly comic as its extremely flawed protagonist compromises his rigid if hypocritical code of honor repeatedly only to end up in progressively worse situations. Reduced to literally whoring himself out to a woman who is amused and disgusted by his willingness to do anything to survive, Pasqualino still has farther to fall as the commandant shows him favoritism and then puts him in the authority to make one of two fatal choices that will break him regardless of the number of casualties (leading not Pasqualino but the audience to sincerely ponder if there is a limit to "survival at all costs"). The narrative contrasts the present tense scenes in the dark and misty Black Forest and the predominantly gray and white concentration camp – far more nightmarish than anything seen in the flashbacks of Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter – with flashbacks set in Neapolitan slums that are nevertheless bursting with color (local and palette) as visualized by Wertmüller's costume and production designer husband Enrico Job (The Great Silence) and Sergio Leone's and Pier Paolo Pasolini's DP of choice Tonino Delli Colli (who only introducing saturated color gels into the camp scenes to induce queasiness to Pasqualino's sweaty aborted coupling with the commandant). Post-synched in Italian or dubbed into English, Giannini does much of his work with his face and eyes, and it is that very manner that he maintains the tragic tone of the climax even as Ray's anarchist stages a final act of defiance by diving into a pool of feces or when he seems to break the fourth wall by gazing into his own reflection and directly into the camera in a sustained take under the closing credits while singer-composer Enzo Jannacci bellows out the end title tune like a howl of agony.


Released theatrically by Columbia Pictures subdivision Cinema 5 in subtitled and English-dubbed versions (apparently a dub produced in Italy to facilitate foreign sales rather than a new American-produced dub as was the case with Columbia's release of Swept Away) and on tape by RCA/Columbia (the laserdisc release was cancelled), Seven Beauties first hit DVD in 1998 from Fox Lorber in a non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer with English and Italian mono options followed by a 2006 DVD from Koch Lorber featuring a new anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen transfer as well as English and Italian mixes in 5.1, 2.0 stereo, and 2.0 mono as well a second disc featuring a seventy-seven minute interview with Wertmuller (along with a two-pack edition paired with Bruno Dumont's Flanders. Kino Lorber's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer – identical to the earlier transfer on the sides while losing margins at the top and bottom – does not impress right away since the first few minutes consists solely of grainy, scratchy, black and white stock footage followed by a sequence in the Black Forest of muted greens, blacks, browns, and grays softened by mist and dew. Only when the film drifts into flashback does Delli Colli's cinematography burst to life with color, textures of clothing and stonework, and the warts and all facial details of Wertmuller's "grotesque" close-ups from Concettina's burlesque and the deathly pallor of the prisoners, to the final devastating close-up of Pasqualino under the end credits.


Whereas the aforementioned Fox Lorber and Koch Lorber DVDs had both the Italian and English dubs, Kino Lorber's Blu-ray features only the Italian track in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. While it would have been nice to include the option of the English track since it is the way many viewers might have seen it theatrically (or on PBS in the eighties), the Italian track is the superior option in terms of performance, and the track here is clean and free of distortion with the film score and original songs having more presence than the Wagner tracks that accompany the introductory concentration camp sequences. The optional English subtitles appear to be the same as the Koch Lorber edition (although in a smaller white font compared to the DVD's yellow ones).


As with Swept Away, extras include another excerpt from Valerio Ruiz's documentary Behind the White Glasses (16:23) – forthcoming on Blu-ray itself from Kino Lorber – which focuses as much time to the Academy Award nominations and Wertmüller's contract with Warner as to a discussion of the film theme of "man in disorder" while another interview with filmmaker Amy Heckerling (9:33) covers the film's themes of honor and survival at all costs (quoting Primo Levi's statement that those saved were "not the best of us"). There is no trailer for the film but the disc does include the Italian and export trailers for Swept Away, the Italian and American trailers for Summer Night, an Italian trailer for Love & Anarchy, a promo for the Lina Wertmuller Repertory Film Series (1:04) , and one for the aforementioned Behind the White Glasses (1:42). Also included is a booklet by Allison Anders (Grace of My heart) and film professor Claudia Consolati whose essay includes commentary from Wertmüller on how to assess the morally-compromised Pasqualino.



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