The daughter of an aristocratic Swiss family, Lina Wertmuller harbored dreams of becoming a lawyer, but this notion fell by the wayside when she entered the Academy of Theatre in Rome in 1947. Thanks to a few valuable connections--one of her school chums was the wife of actor Marcello Mastroianni--Wertmuller found work as a performer/writer with Maria Signorelli's Puppet Troupe. She went on to function as actress, writer, set designer and publicist in a variety of theatrical and broadcast endeavors, entering films in 1962 as Federico Fellini's assistant on the set of 8 1/2. She made her directorial debut the following year with The Lizards. With actor Giancarlo Giannini, a friend and co-worker from her theater days, Wertmuller formed Liberty Films, turning out a series of fascinating, iconoclastic feature films, with Giannini-invariably cast as a Chaplinesque loser--starring in all but one film (All Screwed Up). The first Wertmuller effort to receive an American release was Love and Anarchy (1973). Three years later, she scored her biggest international hit with Seven Beauties (1976), a trenchant, surreal, darkly comic tale of survival and compromise that earned her a Academy Award nomination for "Best Director" (the first such honor bestowed upon a woman). On the strength of Seven Beauties, Warners signed Wertmuller to a four-picture contract--an agreement that was abruptly cancelled after the poor box-office showing of her first Warners project, The End of the World in Our Usual Bed in a Nightful of Rain (1976). During her heyday, Wertmuller was effusively praised for her championing of the underdog, her staunch feminism and her anarchistic approach to her material. Once her vogue had passed in the U.S., however, she was taken to task for the "hollowness" of her vision and her lack of compassion for her characters. Undaunted, she continued making films for the European market, enjoying a brief resurgence of critical approval with one of her most atypical films, Ciao Professore (1994). Lina Wertmuller's most recent film, completed in 1996, bears the typically lengthy cognomen Metalmeccanico e parrucchiera in un turbine di sesso di politica.
photo credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images.
by Hal Erickson biography