Laura Antonelli Is Star Of 'Wifemistress' Film:The CastBy JANET MASLIN
New York Times
January 7, 1979
If "Wifemistress," which opens today at the Little Carnegie, is going to be popular, which I think may be the case, then let's hope it's a hit for the right reasons. The guiding force behind this movie is what might be called Frederick's of Hollywood Feminism, and it allows for scenes like the one in which spectacularly buxom Laura Antonelli, clad in a filmy negligee that has just about fallen off, picks up a pamphlet entitled "The Emancipation of Women" and knots her pretty brow, as if she were thinking. Maybe she is. Maybe you will be, too. Neither one of you will be thinking about the emancipation of women, that's for sure.
It's too bad movies like this, or last year's "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands," bother to masquerade as anything other than the soft-core porn they essentially are (although each of them is something of a travelogue, too). "Wifemistress" sustains an elaborate plot, and every now and then a political point rears its gratuitous head. But every situation boils down to somebody's making eyes at Miss Antonelli. And the only elements of suspense involve the matters of when (midway through the story), whether (of course) and how graphically (not very) she will begin to make eyes back.
As the film begins, Miss Antonelli is a turn-of-the-century Italian heiress confined to her doll-filled bedroom while her husband, played by Marcello Mastroianni, goes philandering all over the very scenic countryside. The wife, called Antonia, is lonely and neglected, her only companion a buxom young woman who parades around in a boyish haircut and a fetching camisole. For reasons that are not explained but have a certain steamy logic of their own, this young woman secretly fools around with Antonia's husband and also sleeps peaceably in Antonia's bed.
But then the husband has to go into hiding, because he is wrongly suspected of murder, and by the same steamy logic he finds a room that looks directly into Antonia's bedroom. Antonia is not in her bedroom, at least not for a while — being liberated from her husband's oppressive ways has restored her health, and sent her off to run his business and find out about his hobbies. He was a wine dealer, so Antonia must visit inns and drink. He was a rake, so Antonia must visit bordellos and find out what he did there. In the interests of accuracy, she must even do a bit of it herself.
But he also wrote political pamphlets, and that's what's supposed to make this a movie with a message. Antonia does, after all, begin running her husband's business. She does discover that her husband wrote tracts about women's suffrage and atheism, even if their contents are never discussed. She does meet other liberated women, even if they do make passes at her. She does eventually become what her husband calls "a complete woman," even if the term seems to pertain exclusively to her frigidity and the curing of same.
Is there any point to this kind of pretension? Well, it may attract an audience that feels more comfortable with monkey business if it's disguised as serious business. But all this prurient dissembling has a way of getting on one's nerves, as do the movie's numbingly repetitive string score and its stubborn refusal to come to a prompt conclusion.
Watching Miss Antonelli run through her coy paces is by no means uninteresting. But watching Mr. Mastroianni is surprisingly unrewarding, because he spends virtually all of the movie cooped up in an attic room, looking sad. Occasionally, Mr. Mastroianni peers out his window into Miss Antonelli's window and glimpses something that makes him genuinely distressed. The director, Marco Vicario, is aptly named.
WIFEMISTRESS, directed by Marco Vicario; screenplay and story (Italian with English subtitles) by Rodolfo Sonego; director of photography, Ennio Guarnieri; set designer, Mario Garbuglia; art decorator, Carlo Gervasi; costumes by Luca Sabatelli; film editor, Nino Baragli; music by Armando Trovaioli; produced by Franco Cristaldi; released by Quartet Films. At the Little Carnegie, 57th Street east of Seventh Avenue. Running time 101 minutes. This film is not rated.