Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Girl with a Pistol (Mario Monicelli, 1968)

A couple of years after Michelangelo Antonioni made his legendary trip to “swinging” London to shoot Blow-Up, his partner in his great early 60’s quartet, Monica Vitti, made her own voyage to Blighty, in Mario Monicelli’s The Girl with a Pistol, a film with not an iota of Blow-Up’s stature (despite a foreign film Oscar nomination at the time), and yet as fascinating a time capsule in its own way. In broad outline, it’s an odyssey of a woman’s awakening and self-discovery: Vitti’s Assunta travels from Sicily to England to find and kill the man who “dishonored” her, and gradually evolves past her archaic social conditioning (in which every woman who smiles at a man is a “whore”) and tempestuous nature to become a confident manipulator of sexuality, professionally and personally. The film’s major appeal lies in the glorious culture-clash oddity of seeing Monica Vitti play scenes in industrial Sheffield (with Till Death Us Do Part’s Anthony Booth, no less!), or in windy Brighton; or attending a rugby match, or dropping into a northern England gay bar, to name but a few. Monicelli doesn’t always exert the tightest control over the concept, populating Britain with characters who improbably speak fluent Italian (one of them played by an ineffectual Stanley Baker); he encourages Vitti into borderline-tedious histrionics. But considering the film in retrospect, one feels surprised at the range of its interests: it nails a Britain where class-oriented grimness (at her English-language class, we see Assunta learn the words “potato” and “marmalade”) is starting to give way to greater self-determination and cosmopolitanism, where lives are transformed through entrepreneurship, where straight white men are no longer the sole determinators of sexual destiny; it even makes time to drop Assunta into a peace demonstration (as if flashing briefly ahead to imagine Vitti returning to Antonioni for his next film, Zabriskie Point).

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