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    Italian Beauty

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    It’s been a while since her portrayal of Princess Aura in Flash Gordon (1980) and her subsequent global film work in a mixture of Hollywood fare (Love and Money, Oscar, Once upon a Crime…) and artier international forays (Tales of Ordinary Madness, Swann in Love, Chronicle of a Death Foretold) forged her image as an icon of rare beauty and playful sensuality. But Rome native, now Moscow resident Ornella Muti still spellbinds today at age 62, even though she may have a grandmother role or two on her resume now, as well as the spot-on part of a famous Italian actress in Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love (2015). Twilight Time proudly offers two early-career performances that planted the seeds of her future fame. Her movie debut was a daring and demanding cinematic launch for the teen model turned fledgling actress, because director/co-writer Damiano Damiani’s La moglie più bella/The Most Beautiful Wife (1970) was based on true, sordid events. Inspired by the 1965 case of Franca Viola, Muti plays a defiant young Sicilian villager who brought a legal challenge to the chauvinistic cultural custom of a prospective bride – kidnapped and sexually brutalized by her “suitor” – in this case, a young gangster (Alessio Orano) who’s a rising star in the local Mafia hierarchy, and then being compelled to marry him to redeem her reputation. In the view of Mondo 70: A Wild World of Cinema essayist Samuel Wilson, La moglie più bella/The Most Beautiful Wife “is more concerned with emotional than physical violence. It's less an exploitation picture than an unlikely blend of the mafia genre and the sensibility of Samuel Richardson, the 18th-century English novelist who specialized in portraying young women of embattled virtue. It works largely because of Muti's precocious intensity as a girl whose compassionate outrage – she’s she's the only one who approaches and attempts to comfort a hit victim in a panicking crowd – is stronger than fear.” Unlike the preceding film, in which her rebellious character repudiates her terrorized, unsupportive clan for knuckling under, Muti is very, indeed uncomfortably, family-centric in her other TT title, directed and co-written by Gianluigi Calderone. To Rock! Shock! Pop! reviewer Horace Cordier, “It doesn't get much weirder than 1974's Appassionata. Dubbed by some as a spiritual precursor to American Beauty, this Italian production is a strange mix of arthouse pretension, softcore exploitation and social commentary. Appassionata is the story of a middle aged dentist named Emilio (Gabriele Ferzetti) facing crippling ennui while dealing with mentally ill wife Elisa (Valentina Cortese), demanding ‘daddy's little girl’ daughter Eugenia (Muti) and a sexually aggressive schoolgirl named Nicola (Eleonora Giorgi). The title, with its clear reference to classical music, ties in to the wife's passion for playing the piano. The strangest thing…is that in the end it is an oddly compelling film for fans of off- kilter European – and especially Italian – films of the 1970s. The pacing is deliberately slow but the dreamlike ambiance lulls the viewer. The utterly bizarre and disturbing dream sequence involving a dog is so out of left field that it constitutes one of the great ‘what the hell?’ moments in European cinema. Appassionata messes with you mentally. Men expecting some good old fashioned titillation will be creeped out at the most surprising times, and the more high-minded looking for deep social commentary will be slightly appalled when the film hoes for the low road. Let's put it this way: you won't like most of these folks, but you WILL find them interesting.” Muti’s screen relationships in La moglie più bella/The Most Beautiful Wife and Appassionata may be twisted and taboo-shattering, but her alertness and allure and undeniable in these scintillating TT gems showcasing the formative years of a great screen siren and birthday honoree.