Tuesday, 11 January 2011

La cagna (1972)

Ugh. What a piece of misogynistic pap.

Other reviews of La cagna (literally, The Bitch, though the international title is Liza) have mentioned it being "highly symbolic" - but surely the director, Marco Ferreri, could have made these same symbolic points using a less rubbish story.

Liza (Catherine Deneuve) and Giorgio (Marcello Mastroianni) are directionless misfits, fleeing from society in an ad hoc, haphazard way. They both end up on a tiny, remote island in the Mediterranean - Liza having swam away from her friend's yacht, Giorgio having established himself as a hermit there with his dog, Melampo. Shortly after Liza's arrival, they "fall in love" - or something, at least. Giorgio then drives Liza back to civilization in his motorboat. Liza then promptly returns, kills Melampo, and takes the dog's place.

There are obvious, striking similarities between this and Lina Wertmuller's far superior Swept Away - the remote island setting, the sadomasochistic love affair, even the actors' looks. But what Wertmuller achieves is a subversion and criticism of La Cagna's central conceit: bourgeois ennui, and how men and women react to it by retreating into primal roles of dominance and submission. Heck, even the uneven Adam Resurrected, which featured a similar nurse/patient, dog/master-roleplaying love affair, was more subtle than this. Both Wertmuller and, to an extent, Adam Resurrected satirized this patriarchal fantasy of "natural"/"savage"/"in the wild" gender roles - La cagna instead embraces them, presenting them as the real thing, as enviable, even.

La cagna also unfortunately relies on lobby room jazz muzak coupled with moody shots of Mastroianni and Deneuve to denote profound philosophical depths. But honestly, Ferreri's not fooling anyone: the characters are paper-thin, the attempts at backstory sloppy and unconvincing ("Ludwig is wrong! No, Ludwig is wrong!" Liza insists - sparing us who Ludwig is or what he's wrong about; the blunt flashback to Melampo as Giorgio crouches over another dead dog - how much more obvious do you need to be? WE GET IT). There's no sense of how much time is passing, no investment in the relationship, and no build and release of dramatic tension. Instead, we trudge along with inane dialogue and, at its worst, tediously stupid gender politics. And those sunglasses! Self-described "Robinson Crusoe" Giorgio springs for Yves Saint Laurent sneakers, but not sunglasses? Oh, come on.

No, we're sorry, but we really don't care about Giorgio's deep guilt over his abandoned, unstable family at home and their bourgeois restrictions on his creativity. Melampo - Pinocchio's dog - may indicate that Giorgio is Pinocchio, but Peter Pan might be more appropriate.

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