Farewell to the great director Lina Wertmüller, first woman Oscar nominee

The great director Lina Wertmüller passes away in Rome at the age of 93. She was the first woman in history nominated for an Oscar for best director.

The great director Lina Wertmüller, the first woman to earn an Oscar nomination for best director, left us today in Rome at the age of 93. The news was given by a family friend. Born in Rome on August 14, 1928, as Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmüller von Elgg Spanol von Braueich, to a noble family of Swiss descent, she was the daughter of Federico Wertmüller, a lawyer, and Maria Santamaria-Maurizio. After studying at the Scharoff Academy of Dramatic Art in Rome, she embarked on her path as a director, first as an assistant director in the theater, and then on the big screen. Her debut was in 1953, as a script secretary for the film ... e Napoli canta! by Armando Grottini. In the following years she also became assistant director to Federico Fellini, with whom she collaborated on La dolce vita (1960) and (1963).

His debut as director dates back to 1963, at the age of thirty-five, in the film I basilischi, with which he won the Silver Sail at the Locarno Festival. Toward the end of the 1960s, he began his artistic partnership with his two iconic actors, Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato, with whom he filmed three of his best-known masterpieces: Mimì metallurgico ferito nell’onore (1972), Film d’amore e d’anarchia - Ovvero "Stamattina alle 10 in via dei Fiori nella nota casa di tolleranza..." (1973) and the unforgettable Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto (1974), perhaps his best-known and most acclaimed film. With Giannini alone, Lina Wertmüller would then shoot Pasqualino Settebellezze (1976), La fine del mondo nel nostro solito letto in una notte piena di pioggia (1978) and Fatto di sangue fra due due due to a widow. Political motives are suspected (1978).

With Pasqualino Settebellezze, Lina Wertmüller became the first woman in history to receive an Oscar nomination for best director (she was later beaten by John G. Avildsen for Rocky: the lot was rounded out by Alan Pakula for All the President’s Men, Ingmar Bergman for The Mirror Image, and Sidney Lumet for Fifth Estate): the same film would later also be nominated for best foreign film and best screenplay, and Giancarlo Giannini would receive a nomination for best leading actor. After her, only five other female directors will make it to a nomination: Jane Campion (1994), Sofia Coppola (2004), Kathryn Bigelow (2010), Emerald Fennell (2021), and Chloé Zhao (2021).

After some lesser-known films in the 1980s, such as Scherzo del destino lurking around the corner like a street brigand (1983) and Sotto... sotto.. strapazzato da anomala passione (1984), Lina Wertmüller returned to great success with Io speriamo che me la cavo, starring Paolo Villaggio. Her last film is 2004’s Peperoni ripieni e pesci in faccia (Stuffed peppers and fish in the face ), starring Sofia Loren: the film had limited success because it was distributed in few theaters. A curiosity: between the 1970s and the 1990s, the actors most frequently hired by Lina Wertmüller included the great Neapolitan gallery owner Lucio Amelio (famous even outside art circles especially for his 1980 Terrae Motus project with which he had involved many great international artists, from Andy Warhol to Miquel Barceló, from Robert Mapplethorpe to Richard Long, to a major exhibition after the Irpinia earthquake), who acted with her in five films, including Pasqualino Settebellezze (if one excepts a 1992 film by Mario Martone, these are his only experiences as an actor).

After Stuffed Peppers and Fish in the Face, the only film she worked on was 2008’s Mannaggia alla miseria, with Gabriella Pession and Sergio Assisi, which was released only on television. Numerous awards for her as well: in 2019 the honorary Oscar “for her provocative unhinging of political and social rules with courage through her favorite weapon: the camera,” in 2010 the David di Donatello for Lifetime Achievement, in 2009 the Golden Globe for Lifetime Achievement, in 2008 the Flaiano Award for Lifetime Achievement.

The President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, also expressed his condolences today for the passing of Lina Wertmüller, “a director and intellectual of great finesse, who throughout her prestigious cinematographic career gave life to unforgettable films and characters.” Culture Minister Dario Franceschini says, “Italy mourns the passing of Lina Wertmüller, a director whose class and unmistakable style left an everlasting mark on our and the world’s cinema. The first female director to be nominated for an Oscar for ”Pasqualino settebellezze“ in 1977, a lifetime achievement Oscar winner in 2020, she had a long and intense career, delivering works to which each of us will remain forever attached. Thank you, Lina.”

Farewell to the great director Lina Wertmüller, first woman Oscar nominee
Farewell to the great director Lina Wertmüller, first woman Oscar nominee

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