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October 20, 2006

The Most Beautiful Wife


La Moglie Piu Bella
Damiano Damiani - 1970
NoShame Films Region 0 DVD

The title is deliberately ironic. Damiani's film is based on the true story of a Sicilian woman who was raped in 1965. The rapist was a small time mafioso, and based on the cultural rules that prevailed, the victim would have married her assailant. The woman, Franca Viola, instead pressed charges leading to the conviction of the rapist, going against Sicilian tradition, and became a feminist icon. The fictionalized film is about Viola, but is also about the ingrained traditions in a small town where the mafia has overwhelming influence on everyday life.

The film is also notable as the debut for Ornella Muti in an assured performance that belies her fourteen years. The Most Beautiful Wife is worth seeing just as a document of this preternatural beauty who unsurprisingly became a top star in Italy just a few years later. Much of Muti's performance is in her eyes which convey a sense of understanding of the forces that try to manipulate her into conformity.

One scene in particular conveys the horror that Muti endures. Dragged to what is to be a wedding celebration, she is surrounded by her "fiance" and his mafia family, gorging on food, indifferent to her physical and psychological pain from the rape. There is a brief shot of Muti's parents, sitting alone in a corner, small and afraid. While the rape itself is not depicted, and there is relatively little graphic violence, The Most Beatiful Wife conveys Muti's sense of isolation, and the hostility of her environment.

The DVD comes with a booklet containing for historical background on Franca Viola, as well as the cast and crew. The DVD extras includes interviews with several crew members including Damiani, a director perhaps best known for A Bullet for the General.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 20, 2006 04:00 PM