Seven Beauties is a 1975 film from Italy directed by Lina Wertmuller.
It's the story of Pasqualino, a petty hood from Naples (Giancarlo Giannini). The film opens in the latter phase of World War II, with Pasqualino as a soldier, having deserted from the Italian army on the Eastern Front against Russia and wound up somewhere in Germany. He and his comrade are captured, and wind up in a concentration camp. His terrifying ordeal in the concentration camp leads Pasqualino to attempt a seduction of the savage, sadistic, and horribly ugly female camp commandant (played by American Shirley Stoler).
Intercut with this narrative is a second story from earlier, before the war, when Pasqualino was a Mafia mook running a textile factory in Naples. When one of his sisters, who has been singing on the stage, is lured into prostitution, Pasqualino the dumbass macho lout decides that he has to confront her pimp. The pimp, who unlike Pasqualino the loudmouth is a genuine tough guy, knocks him down with one punch, leading Pasqualino to decide he has to kill the pimp. This starts a series of disasters in which the audience learns how Pasqualino's dimwitted machismo wound up leading him into the nightmare that is the first narrative.
Lina Wertmuller became the first woman ever to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Director.
- All for Nothing: Pasqualino's life starts to unravel when he feels compelled to defend her sister's honor after she becomes a prostitute. Years later, when he finally gets back from the war and captivity, he finds that his mother, all seven sisters, and his girlfriend all prostituted themselves during the war.
- Anti-Hero: Pasqualino is a pretty bad guy. He murders a man. He rapes a woman who has been tied down to a bed at the mental institution. He becomes a brutal kapo to save his own skin.
- Artistic License Geography: Presumably Pasqualino and Francesco deserted from the Eastern Front, as Pasqualino makes reference to them escaping Stalingrad, and Italians didn't serve in France anyway. Yet somehow they seem to have made it all the way from the Volga to the Rhine in western Germany. Also, the two of them see German soldiers hauling out a group of civilians and machine-gunning the lot of them, something that the Germans certainly did a lot during the war, but in the east, not so much in Germany proper.
- Black Comedy: There are scenes of horrifying Gorn in this film but there are also moments of ridiculous black comedy. Pasqualino shoots Potono by accident, then tries to put him in cement shoes like his mob boss Don Rafael talked about. But after flopping around with the corpse for a bit, Potono's dead body farting all the while, Pasqualino gives it up for a bad job and decides to take an axe and chop him to pieces. Then he has to struggle his way out of town with the wrapped-up chunks of Potono.
- Call-Back: Pedro the anarchist talks about how humans will be at each other's throats one day for food due to overpopulation. Pasqualino the idiot takes entirely the wrong message from this, telling his girlfriend at the end that she has to start popping out a lot of babies so the family can defend itself in the fight for food.
- Edgy Backwards Chair-Sitting: Rarely has it been more terrifying when Shirley Stoler in her underwear straddles a chair and watches Pasqualino shovel in food from a bowl on the floor.
- Evil-Detecting Dog: Or maybe just a meat-smelling dog. But a blind man's service dog barks at Pasqualino is trying to leave town with Potono's chopped-up corpse in several wax paper packages.
- Expy: The monstrous camp commandant played by Shirley Stoler is Inspired by... the notorious Ilse Koch, who also inspired Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS.
- Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: Newsboys reveal that Pasqualino, the "madman of Naples", has been sentenced to an insane asylum.
- Face Death with Dignity: Pedro the anarchist refuses to sit still for the execution, saying he's done with fear, leading the guards on a chase around the block until he dives into a pool of latrine sewage and they shoot him. Francesco then also refuses to stay silent, screaming at the Nazis, calling them brutes and murderers. Pasqualino does not face the prospect of death this way.
- Fan Disservice: In his review Roger Ebert called the sex scene between Pasqualino and the camp commandant "the least erotic scene ever filmed." He was right. The scene where a porcine Shirley Stoler demands that Pasqualino have sex with her or die, and a desperate Pasqualino has to think of his first girlfriend so he can get it up with his life literally on the line, followed by her cold stare of death as he humps away at her, is deeply disturbing.
- Feet-First Introduction: Not for the movie overall, as we first see Pasqualino as a deserter creeping through a German forest. But when the movie cuts back to the earlier timeline, the first thing we see of Pasqualino is his natty shoes as he skips down some stairs.
- Gilligan Cut:
Pasqualino: So I was wrong!
- Pasqualino, telling his boss about the murder of Potono, says "no one will ever hear of this." This is immediately followed by his sister barreling through the house, screaming that Pasqualino killed Potono.
- Pasqualino then runs away from the cops. After some Roof Hopping, he leaps through a window and appears to have escaped. He taunts the cops, saying "You'll never take Pasqualino alive!" This is followed by other cops bursting into the room he's in and grabbing him.
- Gorn: Piles of naked corpses in a concentration camp.
- How We Got Here: An unusual extended riff on this trope. There are two timelines: the later timeline, where Pasqualino is a deserter from the Italian army who goes through a terrifying nightmare in a concentration camp, and the earlier timeline where he is an ineffectual Mafia mook. The two timelines are intercut with each other, alternating scenes, so while we see the horrors of the concentration camp, we also see Pasqualino the bumbling idiot in civilian life, and how he came to be in the army in the first place.
- Irony: As the film goes on you see the decisions which brought about each change in Pasqualino's situation—being arrested for his hedonistic ways, he decides to plead insanity because it'll be a breeze compared to prison. By then the audience knows otherwise. Eventually the increasingly desperate Italian army offers to get him out if he goes off to war, and he agrees, figuring war couldn't possibly be as bad. Then during his service he can't take it any more and deserts, thinking that being a deserter would have to be better than the Eastern Front. It's a whole movie of watching a guy make decisions which viewers know are awful, awful decisions.
- Kavorka Man: Pasqualino, who is overweight and unattractive, is himself mystified at how he's so successful with the ladies.
- Literal Ass-Kicking: Pasqualino does this to his oldest sister when he finds out she's been working as a prostitute.
- Miles Gloriosus: The Mafia equivalent thereof, as Pasqualino makes a great effort to project himself as an intimidating Mafia tough guy. But once he finally confronts Potono about Pasqualino's sister, Potono is not intimidated at all, instead laying Pasqualino out with one punch.
- Ride of the Valkyries: A few years before Apocalypse Now established this piece as a Standard Snippet in the public consciousness, and deeply ironic here, since the music is played over not some scene of glorious military combat, but instead over the horrors of a concentration camp.
- No Dead Body Poops: Potono must have needed to use the restroom before Pasqualino killed him. His corpse farts loudly and repeatedly as Pasqualino wrestles with it.
- No Name Given: Shirley Stoler's brutal, terrifying Nazi is never named.
- Roof Hopping: Pasqualino attempts this when fleeing from the cops. It doesn't work.
- Silence Is Golden: The entire trial sequence in which Pasqualino is sentenced to 12 years in prison takes place without dialogue.
- Staggered Zoom: Onto Pasqualino as he's gasping to catch his breath after sex with the commandant.
- Stock Footage: The film opens with an extended sequence of stock clips of Hitler and Mussolini, as well as WWII combat footage, over an incongruous jazzy soundtrack. This is overlaid with a singer reading off an extensive list of all the types of people that led Italy into disaster..."the ones who never get involved with politics", "the ones who listen to the national anthem", "the ones who are always standing at the bar", "the ones who still support the king", and so forth.
- Title Drop: Pasqualino is called "Seven Beauties" for his inexplicable luck with women.