::“Swept Away By An Unusual Destiny In The Blue Sea Of August”: Lina Wertmüller, 1974 - Guy Ritchie's Swept Away 2001
By Laura Meucci

<< Page 1 << Page 2 >> Page 3 >>

Stranded on a deserted island in a time capsule, Melato and Giannini, Sr. become Adam and Eve reborn, free from social conventions and prejudice; Wertmüller's philanthropy is well-rooted in Italian realism and awareness that such ideals of democracy and justice can only exist outside of society in a surreal world. The characters now find themselves in a reversed survival-of-the-fittest mode. Whereas Melato had the upper hand on the yacht as the strongest specimen of white, capitalist Italy, she becomes overpowered by the illiterate, uncouth, proletarian Giannini, who is well-adapted in the primitive island environment and able to survive with the bare necessities. There is a very poignant scene in both films when the two characters lie naked on a dune after lovemaking. Stripped of their prejudices, the characters are emotionally naked and relate simply as human beings.

This is when love sprouts and Wertmüller’s controversial sodomy scene occurs. Ritchie, on the other hand, misinterprets the sodomy scene of the original film and removes it from his remake. In Daly’s article, he states that audiences “could not stomach it… and that buggery is no longer in fashion like it used to be.” Yet, this scene is about the culmination of Melato’s love for Giannini, Sr. – it is about sodomy only by default. Anglo-Saxon, English-speaking cultures share a history of Puritanism that is profoundly embedded in their linguistic subconscious, which inevitably shapes their ideology and perception of reality. Moreover, the English subtitles do not do justice to Wertmüller’s script as very important bits of dialogue are at times completely omitted, perhaps due to subtitling need for screen conciseness.


By looking at this sodomy scene and its language closer, we come to understand where and how the Anglo-Saxon perspective trivializes and misinterprets Wertmüller’s controversial yet pure love act.

Melato and Giannini are making love, and Melato tells him that he is the alpha male – “what man was like in nature, before everything changed and he should have been her first love.” Giannini replies that if there is a first, then a second will follow, as if Melato were foreseeing herself with other partners. Melato reassures him and explains that he should have been the first and only man. She further explains that she is sorry she is not a virgin; he should have been the one to deflower her, to leave his mark on her. It is at this point that an ecstatically transfixed Melato whispers in the uncouth ear of Giannini, Sr. “sodomizzami” (sodomize me). This request baffles Giannini, clueless to the meaning of the word, and he underplays his ignorance by defensively stating that he is “not in the mood.” Melato then tells him that he is her first real man and begs him again to sodomize her. Giannini, Sr. becomes defensive and suspicious of Melato’s erudition and tells her that he is proud to be an illiterate ignorant and he does not know anything about rich people’s perversions such as “sotorizzami” (meaningless onomatopoeic word) or “sotorazzami” (sotorocket me) as he cannot even pronounce the word. Melato, then, apologizes and turns her back to him, hinting at the meaning of the word. Giannini, Sr. glances at Melato’s back, confused; finally, he understands and asks her why she makes such a big fuss for a simple sexual act, wishing she would call things by their own name. Melato replies it would be a vulgarity and one cannot utter vulgarities during an act of love. For Giannini, Sr., there are no vulgarities in love – vulgarity is a bourgeois invention.

Giannini, Sr. does not dismiss Melato’s sodomy “request as decadent” as Ritchie thinks, rather, as a ‘much ado about nothing’ statement; nor is their relationship merely “about sex and lust” (as Ritchie and Madonna understand it). The fact that this sharp, well-spoken English director misses this nuance demonstrates the essence of this article: we understand reality within the spectrum of our native languages and it is difficult to detach ourselves from the cultural ideology embedded within one’s language, thought, and culture. In this case, the Anglo-Saxon Puritan perspective overpowers the foreign Italian portrayal of unbounded love.

Ritchie’s adaptation of Wertmüller’s script is not without its merits; his sentence about the laws of capitalism initially uttered by Madonna on the yacht and reiterated by Giannini, Jr. on the island is an excellent transposition of the Italian original, harmonizing Wertmüller’s convoluted script into a concise, effective sentence. Another witty twist of Ritchie’s script is the name ‘Pipi’ (for ‘Pepe’), a literal pronunciation of the abbreviation of Giannini, Jr.’s name Giuseppe. In fact, ‘pipi’ is a word for penis in Italian, mostly used by children to refer to their penis in a non-offensive manner. When used as an actual name, this would be the equivalent of calling someone “a dick.” Also, the name Guido is a good adaptation of some of Melato’s slurs in Wertmüller’s original script. The name Guido is a common Italian first name, carrying no particular meaning. In American-English, however, it becomes a racial slur of sorts as it refers to someone of Italian-American origins who is a gaudy macho type – a greasy, pimpy, open-shirted, hairy-chested, gold-chain-danglin’ sleazoid, too perfectly appropriate for this rendition.

Still, Ritchie’s adaptation choice of Americans, Italians and Greeks (rather than solely Americans of different social classes) distorts Wertmüller’s original message about the incommunicability and irreconcilable diversity of different ethnic groups and social classes belonging to the same society and culture. Had the film been about a white Madonna getting stranded on an island with a poor, uncouth, Italian-American or Hispanic Guido, the film would have retained a stronger and more pertinent message, as racism among foreigners seems more acceptable than racism among ethnically diverse citizens of the same country.

Likewise, the use of the word ‘hope’ is a clever linguistic pun in Wertmüller’s original script. When Melato and Giannini, Sr. are stranded on the dinghy in the middle of the Mediterranean, they ponder over the possibilities of being rescued. Melato uses the word hope casually to mean ‘let’s hope that we will be rescued momentarily,’ accustomed as she is to having everything her way. On the other hand, a doubtful Giannini, Sr. states less convincingly ‘let’s hope,’ and when questioned about the uncertainty of his tone, he replies by citing an Italian proverb that “hope is always the last one to die.” After Melato and Giannini are rescued, Wertmüller reiterates this ‘hope’ theme once again ironically, as Giannini’s wife is lodging at Motel Hope.

But hope only has place in Wertmüller’s world, as it comes crashing down under the weight of social prejudice and injustice. Melato and Giannini, Sr. are terribly aware of it during their captivity, whereas Madonna and Giannini, Jr. seem oblivious to it. When Melato declares to Giannini, Sr. that her love for him is true and she never loved anyone before him, he is well aware that her love is conditional and the result of extraordinary circumstances. He realizes she would never have had the courage to stroll about Milan with a Southerner such as himself. Explaining to him that what happened to them is an unrepeatable miracle in such a cruel social world, she says “society is a monstrous machine that deforms and cripples us all.” Melato utters Wertmüller’s credo about the potential hope for humanity suffocated by an unforgiving harsh reality.

<< Page 1 << Page 2 >> Page 3 >>


About :: Archive :: Staff :: Submit :: Contact