Sunday, April 10, 2016

Seven Beauties (original title Pasqualino Settebellezze) (1975) Noir Italian Style

Director, Lina Wertmüller, screenplay by Lina Wertmüller, cinematography by Tonino Delli Colli, jazzy music by Enzo Jannacci. The film stars Giancarlo Giannini as Pasqualino Frafuso, Shirley Stoler as The Prison Camp Commandant, Piero Di Iorio as Francesco, Elena Fiore as Concettina, Ermelinda De Felice as Pasqualino's Mother, Enzo Vitale as Don Raffaele, Mario Conti as 18 Carat Potono, Fernando Rey as Pedro the Anarchist, and Francesca Marciano as Carolina.

Seven Beauties unforgettable credit sequence with historic WWII footage and jazz track by Enzo Jannacci

The film's non linear story structure begins during World War II. Pasqualino and fellow Italian soldier Francesco are on a troop train. The train is fire bombed by the Allies while on it's way to the Russian Front. During the ensuing chaos they run off through the explosions into a forest. Pasqualino is disgusted with the war, he fakes being wounded, resenting the fact that he is ill equipped, and being sent off to fight with cardboard shoes. Francesco was going to be shot for commandeering two trucks and sending his men back to Italy.

On the loose and running for their lives they stumble upon an SS mass execution. Men women and childern are striped of their clothes, lined up and machine gunned into a mass grave. Pasqualino and Francesco look at each other, "we are as guilty as they are".

"we are as guilty as they are"
While heading South back towards Italy, Pasqualino relates to Francesco that all his problems started with a woman. and the story flashes back to the 1930s.

Pasqualino Frafuso is a small time, wanna be macho big shot. He packs a revolver under his belt to "command respect." To Pasqualino appearances are everything. He's slick, suave, excessively debonair. He is a charmer. He dresses sharply, strutting his stuff around Naples, with a cigarette holder jutting rakishly out of his jaw. He has a reputation for being irresistible to women, a playboy, and has acquired the dubious nickname Settebellezze (Seven Beauties).

While on a stroll through Naples he meets an organ-grinder, Carolina a young girl who sings along with the music and has a fortune telling parrot con. She and her brother are getting scolded by their mother who tells her "What's the matter with you? What the hell do you think you're doing? Don't stop singing we need the money!"  Pasqualino asks her why she's crying, she says she can't sing on key and all the men bother her make fun and tease. He tells her to tell them that you're engaged to Pasqualino Seven Beauties. She replies that it's not true, but Pasqualino say it could be true never try to predict the future.

strutting his stuff

Giancarlo Gianinni and Carolina's parrot
young Carolina
But Pasqualino is a poor man who has a mother and seven sisters to protect. They all share a crowded work loft with another large family and they make a living by stuffing mattresses. Pasqualino's problems start when he's forced to defend, as a "man of honor", the family name when his oldest sister Concettina falls into the clutches of a notorious Neapolitan pimp "18 carat Potono". His solution to this problem, and all the resulting domino effects combined with WWII, send Pasqualino spiraling down into an unforgettable hell.

Pasqualino's oldest sister Concettina is more than ugly, she's fugly. Potono her "boyfriend" has sweet talked her into performing in a girly show. Pasqualino finds out and the sequence is grotesquely humorous.

Girly Show Sequence


Concettina dressed in Fascist black

Arrival of Pascalino

Pasqualino confronts his sister backstage. Concettina tells him that Potono has agreed to marry her. Pasqualino says that he'll give him one month to do so, or he will kill him. A few weeks later Pasqualino is summoned to the galleria to talk to the local mafioso Don Raffaele. The Don tells him that his family honor is in the toilet, "18 Carat" Potono, has bought Concettina a pair of shoes with "red bows" on them and put her in The Polonetto Whorehouse for life.

Enzo Vitale

What follows is one of the early picaresque highlights of the film. Pasqualino enters the Polonetto, smacks Concettina around while fighting off the other whores. "Stupid bitch, what a disgrace , you brought dishonor on us" he screams that if she becomes a whore what do you think is going to happen to your sisters? As he's kicking Concettina's ass out the door, she turns to Pasqualino and states "But I looooooove him", exasperated Pasquale shouts "va fa in culo!"

When Pasqualino turns around he see's that "18 Carat" Potono has arrived. What follows is a classic sequence, a "Neapolitan" Standoff accompanied by a frantic Spanish guitar fandango and absurd machismo yodelling.

The Noir/Spaghetti Western-ish Showdown between "Seven Beauties" and "18 Carat" 

Mario Conti

"18 Carat" sucker punches Pasqualino, with a chain wrapped around his fist, knocking him out. He dumps a dustpan of cigarette butts on him, an symbolically sweeps a broom at him,  like he's a piece of garbage. Then he steps over Pasqualino's prone body on his way out.

When Pasqualino comes to, he swears he's going to kill him.

I'll kill Him
Later that night Pasqualino slips through a window into 18 Carat's room while he's sleeping. He wakes him up, and while waving his automatic nervously, tells him to get a gun. While 18 Carat is fumbling in his jacket the gun goes off killing him.

Not finding Potono's gun, Pasqualino cannot claim self defense, he goes back to Don Raffaele to ask what to do. The Don says he made a mistake, he should have brought an extra gun. The Don goes through various options of disposal for a body, the cement overshoes, the king-size coffin, and the adding of the cleaned bones to a local catacomb ploy.  He tells Pasqualino to be creative and he'll make a name for himself.

Be creative
Pasqualino's solution is to cut Potono's body up into pieces put it in three suitcases and ship them to three different cities. The sequence is both grotesque and picaresque and, effectively left, like in Classic Noir's, mostly to the imagination.

He calls the Don and tells him "You know that shipment of provolone, it's been sent off Palermo, Milano, and Genoa, and goodnight. I don't think we'll hear about it anymore."

Of course Pasqualino gets caught by the carabinieri and everything goes Noirsville. He is brought before a judge for a hearing. He confesses to the crime. His lawyer tells him that nobody confesses to this, you get the death sentence for sure and face the firing squad, so make a choice your stupid honor or your life.

So he fakes insanity while awaiting his court date by pretending he is Mussolini. He goes to trial and is found insane and sent to an asylum. Pasqualino has retained a bit of his precious honor, he boats to a fellow prisoner that he is an "ax-murderer. The Monster of Naples."

During both the hearing and the trial whenever we see shots of Pasqualino's family, we see that more and more of his sisters have dyed their hair blond and have become whores.

At the asylum he's gets under the good graces of his female head doctor, and is assigned a job as an orderly. He loses his privileges when he gets caught in bed with a nymphomaniac. He's then subjected to shock treatment, hydrotherapy, straitjacketed and housed with the general population. He get's a reprieve when Italy needs soldiers for WWII.

Back in the present Pasqualino and Francesco are caught after the looting the well stocked kitchen of the country house of a German Frauline. They are sent with fellow Italian deserters to a concentration camp run by a very large, brutish, totally unattractive woman who is all too aware that her master race is on the losing side of the war. She has no hesitation in killing Italians.

Shirley Stoler

At the height of despair Pasqualino vows that he'll find a way to get out. He gets a "vision" remembering a truth his mother once told him "A woman is a woman, and a woman even one who is an evil person, has a little good for someone who can reach her heart. There's a bit of sugar always there." all you have to do is stir it up like sugar in a cup of coffee to bring to your lips what's sweet and fine.

And so Pasqualino to the abject horror of his fellow inmates begins to try to seduce the camp commandant, with sidelong glances, stares, humming songs, etc., etc. He tells them that he knows women, womanizing was what he was good at. The commandant isn't fooled, but she is starved for affection and pasqualino tries his best but when Pasqualino can't get it up because he has "no energy for an erection," she gets him a bowl of food. "After you eat we screw, if you can't you're finished". Their love making has to be one of the most ridiculously disturbing sequences ever filmed.

making eyes at the commandant
she takes him up on it

After Pasqualino performs,  she calls him "Garbage, you disgust me. Your thirst for life disgusts me. Your love disgusts me. You, you sub-human Italian, you found the strength for an erection. And because you were strong you'll manage to live on and eventually you'll win. Miserable creature, lacking in ideals and ideas. And we-We who thought to create a master race....are doomed to failure."

The commandant makes him the barrack capo but he must choose six men to execute. He tells her that he can't do that, and she counters that if he doesn't the whole barrack will be executed.

pick six

So Pasqualino survives but at a horrible price. Life is not black and white, there are lots of grey areas, lots of the lesser of two evil choices. There are no clear answers when choices are made under extreme stress. What would you do to survive hell? Wertmuller leaves it unresolved. Maybe the answer is that we are all whores if the price is great enough.


Fernando Rey

Francesca Marciano as adult Carolina 
Screencaps are from the 2006 Koch-Lorber DVD. Nominated for 4 Oscars in 1977, 10/10

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