Baltimore industrialist Wendell Armbruster (Jack Lemmon) crosses paths with London shop girl Pamela Piggott (Juliet Mills) when they come to Ischia to pick up the bodies of her mother and his father, who have been killed in an automobile accident after a ten-year summertime affair. Straitlaced Wendell tries to avoid a scandal while free-spirited Pamela is impressed by the romantic setting. After some confusion with the bodies and a blackmail attempt by unscrupulous locals, Wendell and Pamela extend their parent's affair into the next generation.
Let's start out with the obvious about Billy Wilder's Avanti!: is there anyone in the world who would even think of calling Pamela Piggot 'fat'? She hardly qualifies as plump, but the characters in the world of Avanti! seem to find her positively enormous and kind of a bore. I find her well rounded, at the very least.
Last time I saw Avanti! I must have been in a grumpy mood, because I don't think any other movie I've rewatched through this series of reviews so badly needed a reevaluation. Part of me wonders if I was too young and inexperienced when I'd seen it, perhaps being a bit priggish or demanding. Nowadays it reminds me of something a tier below Amacord or Two for the Road, fitting in with those 1970's examinations of nostalgia and age.
But even a lower tier doesn't make it unpleasant. Wilder said he was trying to emulate Brief Encounter with the picture, and while this has nowhere the amount of power as that, it's a remarkably sweet bedroom farce that takes a laconic town and places a bellicose man against it. On the island's side, though, it also has a beautiful woman extolling its many simple pleasures; what's a man to do?
There's so much in Wilder's Private Life of Sherlock Holmes that seemed telling, and here, if it isn't a deep seated confession, it seems to also be a rather pointedly honest look at what it's like to have an escape, a deep pleasure that you can celebrate and enjoy.Whether that's an extramarital affair or simply your extended lunch break, who is to say. It's very much about the joie de vivre (not how Italians would put it, I'm sure), the ability to enjoy the moment for what it is and unseating yourself from so many of life's unceasing demands.
That message being delivered by such a wonderfully photographed film isn't lost, as the visceral pleasures of the island and its scenery and the simple but sweet jokes lacks any layer of irony or detachment. Avanti is about a place that is and was, but most notably a place that can continue to be loved, adored and enjoyed.
I know this is roiling your mind, Ryan, since it's the first question you've asked for the last four or five movies, but no, I don't think the film is horribly misogynist. Even the Sicilian woman with a gun is portrayed with a great deal of sympathy, even when she becomes a killer; her crossing herself would be a throwaway in many movies, but here is a beautiful glimpse of grace crossed with crazy.
The real question I must ask you for now, Ryan, is whether you felt the film was too long or just right? 2 1/2 hours is a big investment, and while the movie isn't an epic in any sense, I never felt it drag or become tiresome.
Your thoughts? Or do I have to say 'permisso' first?
I am glad you started with the fact that people found the very beautiful Juliet Mills was fat in this film. Every time they called her fatass, chubby, built like an Japanese Wrestler etc I just chuckled. If only I could be "fat" like her. If they really wanted to go with Wendell Armbruster Jr. seeing beyond the physical appearance find someone at least a bit more chubby.
I had no problem with the women in this film at all I found Pamela Piggot to be a charming character and made her seem to be the perfect "vacation" from what Wendell's typical day is about. The maid was more of a set-up for Bruno's jokes and not a truly fleshed out character but I never found anything wrong with her, but that might be my Sicilian side just sympathizing with her.
You mentioned the pace of the film and I was not bored in the film, I did feel the lackadaisical pace. Yet, I think this was on purpose because it is one of those travelogue movies where the location is as big of a draw as the actors. Heck, the movie succeeds because by the end of the movie I wanted to be buried on that hillside too. The movie was about slowing down and enjoying life and that is what Wilder does with the movie. If you think of it on plot, not much happens in the film to justify the almost 2.5 hour running time but like the 3 hour lunches that are popular on the island, it was just about taking in the sites.
I wonder if you will agree with me that the best thing about the film is Clive Revill as Carlo Carlucci. His deadpan delivery and laid back urgency made me chuckle often in the film and he was a classic Wilder character. I want to see a spin-off movie where Carlo, Mustache from Irma and Farid from Five Graves run a hotel together.
Finally, before I throw it back to you, I have one more question to ask. Even though it is a new era of film that Avanti! was made in, did you still find the swearing and nudity a bit jarring to be in a Wilder film. It is like your grandpa all of the sudden swearing up a storm. I know Wilder had a dirty mind and was from a time when he couldn't let loose but I think the restraint made him better.
I think I'm a bit more forgiving of him this time. The nudity here is part of the character, and that scene is a great encapsulation of both characters.
I think it's funny that you bring up 'Dirty Old Man' this go around though, since that description is actually fairly apt for Armbruster. He tries to sell his swinger credentials-- he has lunches at strip clubs!-- and you can't shake the feeling that the man is just pathetically trying to puff up his chest and fit in with the other macho American executives. If Wilder was writing from any experience here, he knew how silly it seemed.
Backing up a second, though, this is one of the rare times I agree with you on your idea for a movie. While I think the movies might have floundered a bit, he definitely carved out a couple of memorable side characters in this period. Throw in Ray Walston's character from The Apartment and you've got a winner.
Honestly, I don't have much else to say about this one. Very pretty, very nice. I guess, Ryan, I have to ask: would you take on the daughter of your father's former lover, even if she was as overweight as Pamela Piggot? The whole film's focus on their relationship picking up where the last left off struck me as oddly incestuous, even if it works spectacularly well.
I don't know if I would take her on, I mean at 130 pounds she is just too much woman for me. This was a beautiful travelogue film that is just as interested in making you want to travel to Italy as it is in getting you invested in the characters. Yet one thing we had not mentioned was the theme of a son turning into his father. Just like Armbruster Sr., by the end of the film Junior is planning on meeting a mistress next year for a month in the same suite in the same town to get away from his life. This is a theme that I think could have been played out a little more in the film.
I haven't seen a Lemmon/Wilder film I haven't enjoyed yet and this was a pleasant late Wilder film much like Irma, the next film we will watch is The Front Page, a movie that I had a bit of a change of heart about much like you and Avanti!