Lina Wertmüller, first woman to earn best director Oscar nomination, dies aged 93

Lina Wertmüller’s best director Oscar nomination came for her 1977 film Seven Beauties.
Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmüller (Photo | AP)
Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmüller (Photo | AP)

Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmüller, the first woman to be nominated for the best director Oscar, died peacefully at home in Rome on Thursday, according to reports in the Italian press.

The culture minister, Dario Franceschini, said in a statement that Ms. Wertmüller’s “class and unmistakable style” had left its mark on Italian and world cinema. "Grazie, Lina,” he said.

Wertmüller’s best director Oscar nomination came for the 1977 film Seven Beauties, which starred regular collaborator Giancarlo Giannini as an Italian man who does everything he can to survive in a concentration camp. 

She lost out to John G Avildsen for Rocky, and a woman would not be nominated again in the category until Jane Campion in 1994 for The Piano.

Wertmüller, an Italian despite the German-sounding last name, burst onto the cinematic scene with a series of idiosyncratic films that propelled her to the front rank of European directors. All the movies had screenplays written by her, and most relied on the talents of her two favorite actors: Giancarlo Giannini, usually cast as a hapless male chauvinist victimized by the injustices of Italian society and baffled by women, and Mariangela Melato as the always difficult and complicated love interest.

In the broad sense, Wertmüller was a political filmmaker, but no one could ever quite figure out what the politics were. A lively sense of human limitations tempered her natural bent toward anarchy. The struggle was noble and the social structure rotten, but the outcome was always in doubt.

Wertmüller kicked off her career as an assistant director to Federico Fellini on , before making a series of highly regarded films in the 1970s including The Seduction of MimiSwept Away (which was subsequently remade by Guy Ritchie), Seven Beauties and Blood Feud.

After a partnership with Warner Bros to make English-language films was cancelled in 1978 after the failure of A Night Full Of Rain, Wertmüller continued directing until the 2000s, with her final film 2004’s Too Much Romance… It’s Time for Stuffed Peppers. She continued to work as a theatre director until her death and received an Academy Honorary Award for her career in 2019.

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