Pasqualino (Giancarlo Giannini, BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA; HANNIBAL) is a petty thief with a firm sense of honour. He is determined to financially support his elderly mother and seven ugly sisters through Italy's recession leading up to the Second World War.

When his ugliest sister, Concettina (Elena Fiore, ATROCIOUS TALES OF LOVE AND REVENGE), begins providing for herself as a prostitute, Pasqualino roughs her up and tries to force her lover to marry her. The lover responds by beating Pasqualino in front of his sisters, leaving him smarting from the loss of his all-important dignity.

Pasqualino attempts revenge on the lover by going round his house to scare him. Unfortunately, he accidentally shoots him in the face and is soon afterwards taking advice from a local mobster on how to dispose of the corpse.

But Pasqualino's sense of honour overwhelms him and he resolves to confess to the murder - much to his lawyer's disdain. The lawyer persuades Pasqualino to avoid the death penalty by pleading insanity. The downside of this is that the brutal asylum Pasqualino ends up in is possibly a worse fate than the firing squad.

While in the overcrowded asylum (one of Pasqualino's cellmates is one of the perverts from SALO, incidentally), Pasqualino rapes a female inmate strapped to a bed. Suffering a beating as a consequence, he is advised by a woman doctor that his best hope of freedom is to volunteer to join the Italian army in their fight against the invading Nazis.

Pasqualino complies, but is soon caught by the Germans. The bulk of the film's action takes place in the concentration camp he and his friend Pedro (Fernando Rey, COMPANEROS; RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) are ultimately led to.

SEVEN BEAUTIES was nominated for four Oscars, inlcuding Best Director, Best Actor and Best Foreign Film. It's easy to see why.

Lina Wertmuller (SWEPT AWAY; THE NYMPH) has crafted a timeless classic - an epic odyssey though the life and trials of a flawed yet likeable character surviving, and equally undone, by his own moral code of honour.

Everything about SEVEN BEAUTIES works. The cast are homogeneously excellent. Giannini in particular gives a performance of staggering range and depth - one of the best realised character studies in recent memory, tapping into Pasqualino's hopes, fears, agony, joy, lust, rage and much more with a deft ease. It's a joy to behold and arguably the best performance of Giannini's brilliant career.

Wertmuller's direction of her non-linear storytelling is confident and quirky, finding macabre humour in even the darkest scenes. Pasqualino's drunken attempts at hacking a body to pieces are bizarrely amusing, while his seduction of an oversized Nazi kommandant (Shirley Stoler, THE HONEYMOON KILLERS) is as grotesque as it is bold, honest and consequently hilarious.

The photography is consistently gorgeous, whether it be capturing the splendour of rural Italy or the grey death of the concentration camp - it's never short of stunning.

Speaking of the concentration camp footage, some of this is jarringly brutal. It's not so much graphic (although there is some unexpected violence that will haunt you after witnessing it), but cold and casual, making it all the more disturbing.

Overall though, even after you've sat through the political debates the movie raises regarding fascism and Mussolini, the film's strongest point is it's humanity. It's a touching tale of the human struggle to overcome whatever life throws at you, whatever it takes.

Fox Lorber originally released this on DVD several years ago, and since it was deleted it has been selling on Amazon Marketplace for a hefty sum

Now the film has been re-released by the recently renamed Koch Lorber, and we get an extra disc containing an interview with Wertmuller.

Disc 1 contains the film, uncut, in a non-anamorphic 1.66:1 aspect ratio. It's not as pristine as I'd hoped, but images are generally bright and sharp with minimal grain or colour fading.

Audio options include the original Italian soundtrack in mono, stereo and 5.1 mixes. It's a good, clear track with no concerns. The 5.1 track is a decent mix, but I opted for the original mono track which sounded more natural. An English dubbed track is also available in mono, stereo and 5.1 mixes. This is slightly louder and echoes somewhat - but who wants to watch a foreign classic dubbed these days? Easily readable English subtitles are also an option.

Disc 2 offers a 78-minute interview with Wertmuller. She discusses her career at length - through her early influences, to the genesis of SEVEN BEAUTIES and her joyful working relationship with Giannini. Burnt-in subtitles are sometimes difficult to read, but this is a worthy (and weighty) insight into the works of one of Europe's key filmmakers.

A couple of Wertmuller trailers - SWEPT AWAY and THE NYMPH - close proceedings.

SEVEN BEAUTIES is an expertly crafted masterpiece that demands to be seen. Koch Lorber's 2 disc DVD is the best the film has looked so far, and the interview with Wertmuller is a substantial bonus for fans.

Giannini, Rey and Stoler, in of the greatest European films of the 1970s - if not all time. How could you possibly resist?!

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Koch Lorber
Region 1 NTSC
Not Rated
Extras : see main review