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Koch Lorber presents
Seven Beauties (1975)

"How the hell did the world ever get like this?"
- Pasqualino (Giancarlo Giannini)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: June 22, 2006

Stars: Giancarlo Giannini, Fernando Rey, Shirley Stoler, Elena Fiore
Director: Lina Wertmüller

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, violence, mature themes, and a whole mess of stuff that's disturbing on all kinds of levels)
Run Time: 01h:56m:18s
Release Date: April 04, 2006
UPC: 741952306290
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AC+B B

DVD Review

This deeply disturbing film isn't for the squeamish or the faint of heart; and though it deals with some of the worst horrors of the Second World War, it's surely not an instructive tale, no parable of morality. But if you've got the stomach for it, Seven Beauties is astonishing and indelible, on many levels, a bizarre extension of Neorealism, a nod to the grotesqueries of late Fellini, and an unflinching look at some of the worst that humans can do to one another. The movie is the answer to a trivia question, because for her work here Lina Wertmüller became the first woman nominated in the Best Director category at the Academy Awards, losing to John G. Avildsen for Rocky, but her film is more than just a historical curiosity—it resonates through the decades and has a handful of images that will keep you up nights.

Frequent Wertmüller collaborator Giancarlo Giannini stars as Pasqualino, the only man in a family of women—he must look to the care and feeding of his septet of sisters, hoping to marry them off each in turn, and he's a ladies' man himself, earning the nickname that's the title of the movie. The film crosscuts between his life at home and the hardships brought by the war and the maintaining of the family honor—with many mouths to feed and many men interested in their services, prostitution becomes the unpalatable but most economically promising path for Pasqualino's sisters, for one cannot eat the family reputation. As we learn as the film goes on, Pasqualino is conscripted into the Italian Army, and his desertion from his unit leads to his brutal pull in a German P.O.W. camp. But he is a survivor, above all else, and learns that the madness of war may force you into the most grotesque and morally compromising behavior. Better to live with one's shame than to die with one's honor.

The Pasqualino we meet at home is a dandy, with his double-breasted coats, finely trimmed moustache and jaunty cigarette holder—the obvious contrast is with Pasqualino the prisoner, hungry, desperate, crazed. Giannini's gravelly voice and piercing stare anchor the film, and in both of the story's principal settings, we watch with pity and terror as the character is reduced to base crimes for unthinkable reasons. Perhaps the most indelible and squirm-inducing sequence results from Pasqualino's plan to secure his freedom in prison: he will try to seduce the foul, forbidding Nazi fraulein who runs the camp. An incredibly upsetting, gripping central scene between him and his intended—he's starving, desperate, filthy, repulsed by her yet committed to professing his alleged love—is truly the stuff of nightmares, haunting and shocking, and Shirley Stoler as the warden is every bit Giannini's equal in bringing this off, his one nauseating prospect in a savage world.

Pasqualino's moral descent only continues from there—the tale of Pedro, an anarchist prisoner played beautifully by Fernando Rey, is only one in a series of horrific small tales here, which accumulate into a resonant portrait of the unrelenting ugliness of so much of human behavior. Just talking or thinking about some of the scenes here are enough to make you squirm, and watching the movie can be deeply upsetting. But Wertmüller is no misanthrope—even in the worst of times, she keys in on what it is that makes life worth living, and in a twisted sort of way, this is actually a great affirmation of humanity, a look at the very worst followed by the stern resolve to go on.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The framing tends to be a little jumpy, suggesting that the transfer was done somewhat sloppily, and that lack of stability can be disconcerting. Colors are reasonably well rendered, even if time has taken a toll on the level of saturation.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoItalian, Englishyes
DS 2.0Italian, Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Italian, Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Yes, six different audio options, though I would recommend you listen to your Italian-language track of choice, rather than the occasionally problematic English dub tracks. The 5.1 track can sound a little hollow at times; I'm partial to the 2.0 track here.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Count of Monte Cristo, La Dolce vita, Swept Away, Summer Night, Fernando and Carolina, The Nymph
1 Documentaries
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: A second disc holds the principal extra: a feature-length interview (01h:17m:40s) with Wertmüller, conducted by Carlo Lizzani, that looks at all aspects of her life and work. She discusses her childhood, working with Giannini, the origins of Seven Beauties, and, particularly interesting, the international reception the film received. She's a tiny little woman, whose white hair matches her suit, her eyeglass frames, even her couch, and she's very good company here. The first disc also includes a weblink to the Koch Lorber homepage.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Lina Wertmüller's macabre tale can make your skin crawl, but the relentlessness of her vision makes this movie an extraordinary achievement, and it's as good on the horrors of war as any film ever made. This two-disc set shows it off handsomely, and the extended interview with the director is a generous and appropriate addition.

 


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