Lina Wertmueller, First Woman Nominated for Directing Oscar, Dies at 93
ROME — Italy’s provocative filmmaker Lina Wertmueller, whose potent mix of sex and politics in You’re gone Seven BeautiesShe was the first female nominee for the Academy Award for Directing and an icon on the New York Film Scene. She was 93.
Wertmueller, who was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 2019, passed away in Rome, her family reporting to LaPresse.
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini paid tribute to Wertmueller Thursday, saying her “class and unmistakable style” had left its mark on Italian and world cinema. “Grazie Lina,” he said in a statement.
She was controversial, politically charged, and often sexually explicit in her films. Her films also contained social commentary and anti-establishment satire. Wertmueller also wrote scripts for the films and described them as Marxist comedy.
“I refuse to make films without social themes,” said the woman once dubbed “five feet of film controversy.”
Five feet tall with dramatic eye makeup, colorful hair and rings on all her fingers, Wertmueller’s extravagant appearance was an integral part of her persona. She revealed that she was the owner of hundreds white-rimmed glasses in an interview with The Associated Press.
She was born Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmueller von Elgg Spanol von Braueichjob in Rome to an aristocratic Swiss family. Apparently rejecting her parents’ wishes to study law, Wertmueller instead went to drama school where she acted, wrote and directed plays. After graduating from Rome’s Theatre Academy, she toured Europe with Maria Signorelli’s puppet troupe.
Marcello Mastroianni (an Italian director) introduced Wertmueller, a married friend, to Federico Fellini in 1963. He asked Wertmueller if she would be willing to work as his assistant. 8½. Wertmueller said that Fellini was her greatest inspiration.
“It’s illuminating to be close to him, because you are close to a character who’s so profoundly nonconformist, who runs with himself like a child with a kite,” she said.
That same year, with Fellini’s encouragement, Wertmueller went to Sicily to make The LizardsThis was her debut feature film. It was favorably received but the director herself criticized it as being “too rarefied,” too difficult for people to understand. She wanted films to appeal to the mass.
Wertmueller’s series of hits began with the Mimi’s Seduction (1972), whose title was abbreviated from “Mimi the Metal Worker Wounded in his Honor”—Wertmueller told the AP that long titles amused her. The New Yorker called it “a wonderfully funny sexual farce” and Time magazine named it one of the year’s 10 best films. Another box office success was Love and Anarchy (1973), You’re gone(1974). Seven Beauties(1976), for which she received one Oscar nomination in directing. One for best original screenplay, and one for Giancarlo Giannini, her leading man.
She didn’t win then, but the Academy acknowledged the milestone in awarding her a lifetime achievement more than four decades later, in 2019.
Roger Ebert, film critic You’re gone his top rating, saying despite the movie’s clash between a wealthy capitalist and her Marxist employee it “persists in being about a man and a woman.” Other critics were uncomfortable with its violence against women, with Anthony Kaufman calling it “possibly the most outrageously misogynist film ever made by a woman.” The film won the 1975 National Board of Review award for top foreign film.
Sex was the constant theme. The sex was a constant theme in the Mimi’s SeductionA man may be attracted to Communism because it gives him the opportunity to have an affair and get married to a beautiful communist. There are many other ways to get involved with Communism. Seven Beauties, Pasqualino, played by Giannini—for years Wertmueller’s favorite leading man—decides to survive a concentration camp at all costs, even by making love to the fat, brutal Nazi woman in charge.
Yet with 1977’s Rainy night, Wertmueller’s first film in English, U.S. critics were no longer so enthusiastic.
Wertmueller was a lover of bringing together seemingly contradictory forces. In 1992, she made her first movie. Ciao, Professore! tells the story of Neapolitan school children forced to deliver drugs and kill, but she called the film “an act of love for the South and the children.”
“I see the possibility for humor in the most serious things,” she said.
Wertmueller, who was energetic and a master slave driver on set, had the reputation being full-fledged energy. He would change scenes as needed.
“She’s a tempest,” Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish director, once said.
Giannini claimed that the director would always be open to new ideas.
“Lina asks everyone for advice, camera operators and actors alike. She believes that a film is the product of collaboration,” he said.
Wertmueller was also a member of the Venice Film Festival jury in 1988 and served as the director of Italy’s film acting school.
She worked closely with her set designer husband, Enrico Job, for all her successful pictures, calling him “my best critic.” He died in 2008.
Maria Zulima Job, Wertmueller’s daughter, has survived them.
Deborah Faraone Mennella, an ex-AP journalist, contributed to the report.