"It's a man's right to ask, a woman's duty to refuse!"
—Orlando Califano, Seduced and Abanoned
In 1964, Pietro Germi followed up one comic masterpiece (1961's Divorce Italian Style) with another: Seduced and Abandoned. A buffoonish but bitter social satire that runs to classical depths, Seduced and Abandoned takes no prisoners for society's misogynistic crimes in the name of familial honor.
Since it emerges from neorealism, Germi's comedia all'Italiana demonstrates a sociological specificity in its excavation of Sicilian mores, particularly individual responses to an outdated law granting immunity from prosecution to rapists whose victims agree to marry. Germi's insistence on emotional expressiveness, however, allows the audience no guarantee of moral superiority. Seduced and Abandoned's briskly paced blend of comedy and tragedy suggests that the right circumstances can send any family into reckless hysterics.
Germi invites the audience into such circumstances with a parodic melodramatic song that recurs through the film: "Let me sing you a tale of a family.../You'll be tempted to call me a liar..." Despite the constant protestations of rich family history to follow, the Ascalones first appear in a tableau of slothful squalor. The post-meal siesta catches the family literally and figuratively sleeping as Don Vincenzo Ascalone's gorgeous sixteen-year-old daughter Agnese (Stefania Sandrelli) unconvincingly fends off the advances of her sister's fiance Peppino (Aldo Puglisi).
Though Agnese cannot resist him, Peppino is every inch the scoundrel, rhetorically asking, "What are you making me do?" as he gropes Agnese into submission. The tryst will out, leading Don Vincenzo (Saro Urzì, named Best Actor at Cannes for his work here) to storm all over town in hapless attempts to defuse a situation by setting his world ablaze. To protect the feelings of his daughter Matilde (Paola Biggio), the jilted fiancée, Vincenzo enlists a destitute and therefore suicidal baron (Leopoldo Trieste). Snaggletoothed and cursed with a crazy laugh, the baron leaps at the opportunities to restore honor and fill his empty belly.
Meanwhile, Peppino blanches at the notion of marrying Agnese, since she's no longer a virgin (never mind who deflowered her), and boils over at being portrayed as a cuckold as the baron walks abroad with Matilde. After a round of Punch-and-Judy-style beatings (of Agnese, Peppino, and Peppino's father Orlando), Vincenzo brings in the heavy guns: a musket and, failing that, a lawyer—Umberto Spadaro as Vincenzo's supposedly connected cousin.
Lawyers and police only corrupt the matter further, with high-pressure threats of jail time, dirty-laundry airings, and forced marriage (screenwriters Age-Scarpelli, Germi, and Luciano Vincenzoni throw in a regional dig as the local constable huffs, "This is Sicily. 'No' could mean 'yes'!"). The resulting chaos belies the baron's comforting claim to Vincenzo: "A gentleman's dignity blossoms in adversity." Every twist spawns runaway gossip from the bemused citizenry.
Catholicism also takes its hits. The thoughtless Peppino—"God! If only I believed in prayer!"—represents the modern movement away from faith (later, he ironically yells at his authorities, "You're crucifying me!"). Though the local priest gives Vincenzo the sensible advice to let the matter drop, he also brands Agnese shameless in confession. Far more damaging is the sexual hypocrisy evident in all the supposedly God-fearing Catholic men. Both Vincenzo and Peppino plan, during the scandal, to tryst with the prostitutes drooled over by every man in town, even as the insistence of virginity before marriage makes a sane arbitration between Agnese and Peppino's families impossible.
Given the question of virginal innocence, Germi wisely frames it all in brilliant white and deep black, enhanced with inventive techniques (zooms, jump cuts, and skip frames) during the most frenzied moments. Germi depicts unreliable flashbacks and a fever dream that caricatures the film's crazy situations in a courtroom that resembles the bloodthirsty interiors of a Roman arena. But the most Goyaesque grotesqueries are saved for Agnese's own vision of her abuse at the hands of her neighbors in the crowded town square. Germi resolves his masterpiece of sexual politics with but one just desert amid moral equivocation.
Criterion delivers an excellent restored anamorphic transfer that accurately represents Germi's high-contrast black-and-white imagery (as is to be expected of a film from this period, the original mono soundtrack can be a tad harsh). A nice parcel of extras—all anamorphically enhanced—fills out the discs, beginning with the brand-new documentary Commedia all'Italiana: Germi Style (25:39). Screenwriters Furio Scarpelli and Luciano Vincenzoni offer their recollections of Germi, while Italian film scholar Mario Sesti makes the case for Germi as a forgotten genius.
Criterion also includes two 2002 interviews with stars of the film: Lando Buzzanca" (6:43) and "Stefania Sandrelli" (6:27). The interviews are brief, but illuminating as to Germi's character and directing style. We also get to see Sandrelli's screen test (1:52) for Seduced and Abandoned, silent footage narrated by Sandrelli. Finally, the disc includes the film's original trailer (3:49), complete with a cute but spoiler-filled poem. As always, the packaging includes a vital piece of film criticism, this time an essay by prominent Italian film scholar Irene Bignardi.
Criterion's special edition of Seduced and Abandoned is an essential companion piece to the company's two-disc special edition of Divorce Italian Style: let the Germi revival continue!
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