Anjali and I saw Sedotta e abbandonata, Pietro Germi’s follow-up to Divorzio all’italiana, at the NW Film Center last night. We were a few minutes late, and I can only imagine how much we missed, because in Divorzio all’italiana the main character presents all the characters and the entire set-up in the first few minutes in a voice-over. I realized deflatedly a few minutes after we found our seats, that just because this was Germi’s follow-up to Divorzio all’italiana, and just because the film featured many of the same actors, did not mean that it starred Marcello Mastroianni. His magnetic presence was sorely missed, for he managed to add a real lightness and diabolical charm to the evil events presented in that film, whereas Sedotta e abbandonata is much darker and bleaker for his absence.
The movies are very similar in that they both deal with the Sicilian concept of honor, the importance of maintaining appearances or being devoured by the society, and the twisted nature of the patriarchal penal code, which runs roughshod over the lives of women in the society. In Sedotta e abbandonata a young girl is seduced and made pregnant, and the only culturally-acceptable options offered by the society are for a family member to kill the seducer in a fit of passion at your family’s loss of honor, or to force the girl to marry her seducer. But what if the girl doesn’t want to marry her seducer? What if the seducer does not wish to marry the girl because she is no longer a virgin, never mind who is responsible?
Sedotta e abbandonata is dark, dark, dark. It is billed as a comedy, and it is not that it is without comic moments, but the overall mood is oppressive and depressing. Comic touches include failed suicide attempts, the naive dreams of young girls compared to the harshness of reality, and a father who will do anything to preserve his family’s honor, whether that means beating his daughter, locking her in her room without reprieve, sending a son to jail, or condemning a daughter to a loveless, and no doubt abusive, marriage. The “happy” ending is painfully sardonic, and drives home the point that in Sicily, if you are a woman, you are at the mercy of the men and the demands of their culture and misogynistic penal code.
“It is the man’s right to ask, and the woman’s duty to refuse.”