I come from a small town in the rural Midwest. I also went to an “exclusive” Catholic school for most of my education and my family all attended the same church. I say exclusive mainly because there were only fifty people in my year for most of the time I went to school and they all came from families that I saw at church every Sunday. So when you have multiple generations of people gathering in a small church and growing up together, gossip can run rapid. The reputation of a family can put into jeopardy over the smallest things. So when I say I can relate to the family in Seduced and Abandoned, you better believe it.
Seduced and Abandoned is about a large family in Sicily. The family is ruled by the patriarch who is also a very rich man. He has several girls that he wants to marry off to well off families. The eldest sister is engaged to a man with a political career potential, Peppino. But Peppino likes her youngest sister, Agnese. One day when everyone is asleep except for them, Peppino seduces Agnese into having sex with him. She becomes pregnant. The patriarch must now force Peppino to give up his eldest daughter and marry Agnese all without harming his family’s reputation. But Peppino refuses to marry Agnese because he now believes that she is a whore. (It is the duty of a man to ask and the duty of a woman to refuse) So through a series of twists and turns, the patriarch brings Peppino and his family to trial for allegations of rape. The only way to get rid of the allegations is for Peppino to marry her, but Agnese starts to rebel. She doesn’t want a man who is as spineless as Peppino. This gives the patriarch a heart attack and on his dying bed, wishes for Agnese to keep up appearances and marry Peppino.
What is most interesting about this movie, besides the sarcastic sense of humor displayed at every turn, is the information behind the movie. At this time in Italy and Sicily, rape allegations can be wiped away by the victim marrying the offender. There are countless examples of this happening on the books of the courts. I was reading an article about Pietro Germi, the director of the film, and he said he made the movie in order to explore why the women (who are typically the victims) are forced to marry their aggressors. He was wanting to understand why reputation is so important to families. He also wanted to show that this law was completely base and without merit. No one is happy to have this marriage, least of all the victim, Agnese. She bites the hand of Peppino in an attempt to manifest her feelings against such a union. But no one seems to listen or understand where she is coming from. They just usher on with their own ideas about what is proper.
Saro Urzi plays the patriarch of the family and he is by far the best part of the film. He is loud and boisterous. He is expectant of everyone bowing to their will and is an expert at manipulating proper feeling. At one point in the film, Urzi is confronted by Peppino’s parents. They ask for forgiveness and beg him not go to the courts for the sake of their child. Urzi yells at them in the middle of the plaza where everyone is gathered. He bellows so that everyone can hear and they do. When he breaks from them and enters a small bar, a crowd of wrinkly old men gather and Urzi spins a tail so sweet and manipulating that I found it absolutely hilarious (probably the intended reaction given Germi’s reputation).
Germi was able to convey a certain dry humor in his previous masterpiece, Divorce, Italian Style. But here he was able to pull off a more complex humor that resonated more with me. This humor has aspects of mocking, sarcasm but it is still touched with genuine emotion. Through this humor he was able to achieve more sympathetic characters than in Divorce. He was also able to show genuine affection for the character of Agnese and the situation she is forced into. For these reasons, I think this is a great movie.