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The Worker and the Hairdresser in a Whirlwind of Sex and Politics

Tunin Tullio Solenghi Zvanin Gene Gnocchi Rossella Veronica Pivetti Anitina Cyrielle Claire Palmina Piera Degli Esposti Mariolina Cinzia Leone

Tunin Tullio Solenghi Zvanin Gene Gnocchi Rossella Veronica Pivetti Anitina Cyrielle Claire Palmina Piera Degli Esposti Mariolina Cinzia Leone

With: Giacomo Centola, Alexandra La Capria, Maria Zulima Job.

Angling to re-create the commercial magic of her 1970s hits in which stars Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato played out love-hate passions as metaphors for a divided Italy, Lina Wertmuller rehashes an outmoded formula right down to the elongated title in “The Worker and the Hairdresser in a Whirlwind of Sex and Politics.” Not without its share of laughs, but too local to cross many borders, this licentious comedy shows the director in a nostalgic rut.

Wertmuller’s subject here is a couple torn by political polarization but drawn by sexual attraction, rekindling a tone deliberately reminiscent of her 1974 breakthrough “Swept Away . . . by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August,” and 1972’s “The Seduction of Mimi.” But little if anything has varied in Wertmuller’s approach, which now seems tired and facile. While leads Tullio Solenghi and Veronica Pivetti attack their roles with exuberance, they fail to ignite the sparks of Giannini and Melato that might have camouflaged the material’s banality.

The action spans the April 1994 general elections, in which the conservative coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi swept to power, through this year’s return to the ballots when a center-left government took over the helm. Angered by his party’s poor showing, diehard Communist mechanic Tunin (Solenghi) goes looking for a fight on election night among the right-wing revelers in his sleepy Northern town. Getting into a scuffle with fiery hairdresser Rossella (Pivetti) , he soon finds his uncontrollable erection interferes with his antagonism.

The raucous comedy’s main thrust comes from Tunin’s efforts to resist his fatal attraction to the enemy, and the no-less-curious Rossella’s wiles to enlist a hard-line leftist in the federalist Northern League party to which she swears allegiance. A parallel seduction takes place between Tunin’s sidekick (Gene Gnocchi) and Rossella’s salon colleague (Cyrielle Claire). The two men’s resourceful wives (Piera Degli Esposti, Cinzia Leone) tire of relying on their unemployed, philandering husbands and instead establish a profitable riverside trattoria.

The script by Wertmuller and veterans Leo Benvenuti and Piero De Bernardi rarely strays beyond the well-worn scenario’s more obvious comic opportunities and lacks both a contemporary slant and genuine political bite. But the rhythm is accelerated to a breathless pace, underlined by a lively score filled with tango and bullfight themes.

The casting of Pivetti is clearly a local gimmick: the actress is the sister of former Northern League member and Chamber of Deputies president Irenc Pivetti , whom she even acknowledges at one point. But she brings plenty of spirit to the throwback role, as does TV and theater comic Solenghi. Gnocchi’s is perhaps the most interesting character — a member of the obsolete working class exploring the new world of leisure time — and the actor plays it at a less shrill pitch than his fellow cast members. French thesp Claire is slighted by some of the worst dubbing in recent memory.

Visually, the pic benefits from the picture book charms of its small-town setting of Pizzighettone near Cremona and from Enrico Job’s production design, which contrasts the rustic living quarters of Tunin and family with Rossella’s glitzy modern apartment.

The Worker and the Hairdresser in a Whirlwind of Sex and Politics

(METALMECCANICO E PARRUCCHIERA IN UN TURBINE DI SESSO E POLITICA)

Production: (ITALIAN) A Medusa release (in Italy) of a Videomaura, Medusa Film production. (International sales: Sacis, Rome.) Produced by Bruno Altissimi, Claudio Saraceni. Executive producer, Elio Manni. Directed by Lina Wertmuller. Screenplay, Leo Benvenuti, Peiro De Bernardi, Wertmuller.

Crew: Camera (Cinecitta color), Blasco Giurato: editor, Pierluigi Leonardi; music, Lilli Greco-d'Angio; art direction, Enrico Job: costume design, Cristiana Lafayette: sound (Dolby Digital), Giuseppe Muratori. Reviewed at Fiamma Cinema, Rome, Oct. 8, 1996. Running time: 105 MIN.

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