Lina Wertmüller, Italy, 1975 (9.0*)
This would have to be considered the masterpiece of famed Italian director Lina Wertmüller (a former ass't director to Fellini), who wrote and directed this wartime story of a small-time Italian named Pasqualino with 'seven beauties' as sisters (hence the title, also perhaps a slight reference to Fellini from his former assistant), wonderfully played by Giancarlo Giannini in a performance of a lifetime. We see his character before the war, his strutting pomposity and self-importance (he is only large in his own imagination), his attention to every detail of personal appearance. Then reality strikes along with WW2, he ends up in a POW camp for killing a man who pimped out one of his sisters.
Giannini is perfect, especially his body language and the range of facial expressions he uses. He makes us laugh during even the most squeamish of scenes, as when he's seducing the giant prison kapo wonderfully underplayed by Shirley Stoller [photo below]. Somehow he manages to be both comic and tragic at the same time, something Roberto Benigni failed to do but was rewarded anyway (with two Oscars®) for Life Is Beautiful, in a performance I saw as so flippant that it robbed the film of its intended poignancy. (I saw this as an homage to Chaplin, just not as well achieved by Benigni)
This film never loses its tragic edge, the humor merely underscores the bleak circumstances for all its characters. Irony and subtlety are used perfectly to describe the fragile and tragic human condition, as individuals must decide how far they must descend in order to survive. This fact alone probably means that European audiences will appreciate it more than American ones, as we've never been totally occupied by enemy armies.
This film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Director (John Avildsen won for Rocky, one of the worst choices of all time, it should have been Sidney Lumet for Network), Best Foreign Language Film (the forgettable Black and White In Color won), Best Screenplay (directly for the screen, Paddy Chayefsky deservedly won for Network), all three for Wertmüller [photo below], who became the first woman nominated for a best director award; and also Best Actor for Giancarlo Giannini. She was also nominated by the Directors Guild of America, losing to Lumet for Network, and another foreign film nomination at the Golden Globes, losing to the inferior Bergman film Face to Face.
Note: none of the directors who lost to first-time director Avildsen that night (Bergman for Face to Face, Lumet for Network, Pakula for All the President's Men, and Wertmuller) ever won an Oscar®.
[As #701 in our recommended film count, we decided to stick with the 'seven' title theme. We've now done The Seven Year Itch, The Seventh Seal, Seven Samurai, and Seven Beauties.]