How Lina Wertmüller Paved a Path for Today’s Women Directors
Art and Experience:
It’s always so jarring and upsetting to learn that someone you have greatly admired has died — no matter how old they are.
Italian writer-director Lina Wertmüller, who passed away last week at age 93, was one of those industry icons whom I had hoped to one day reconnect with. I had the honor of first meeting her two years ago when she was in Los Angeles at a luncheon given in her honor by Women in Film. I remember at the time being struck by how healthy and vibrant Wertmüller still was for her age — a dynamo packed into a petite frame with her trademark white plastic glasses and striking white hair.
I wrote about our encounter in my Oct. 29, 2019, editor’s letter, recounting how I talked with her about what a significant place she held in the annals of movie history as a revolutionary, provocative filmmaker and the first woman to be nominated for a directing Oscar, for 1976’s “Seven Beauties.” Wertmüller was in L.A. to receive a most deserved star on the Walk of Fame and to collect an honorary Oscar for her body of work, which also includes “Swept Away,” “The Seduction of Mimì” and “Love and Anarchy.”
You should check out her lively acceptance speech on YouTube (translated by Isabella Rossellini), in which the witty, feisty-as-ever director complained that Oscar had a male name and said that she would call her Anna.
The sad fact, of course, is that to date Wertmüller is one of only seven women to have been nominated for a director Oscar, and just two, Kathryn Bigelow and Chloé Zhao, have won. The good news is that another great female director, Jane Campion, is certain to land a best director Oscar nomination — and is one of the front-runners to win — for her well-received Western “The Power of the Dog.” Campion, who graces this week’s Variety cover, just won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for best director, and she and her film led the nominations for the Alliance of Women Film Journalists with nods for director, best film, adapted screenplay and acting and craft categories.
This week, Campion picked up Golden Globe nominations for director and screenplay and snagged a Critics’ Choice nomination for director, while Maggie Gyllenhaal also nabbed a Golden Globe director nomination for her drama “The Lost Daughter.”
I am certain that Wertmüller would have been quite proud of both women.