Raffaella (Mariangela Melato) is the wife of a wealthy man, and holidaying in the Mediterranean where she goes swimming with her friends, soaks up the sun and talks incessantly. She loves to hold discussions about the virtues of her class and the worthlessness of the left wingers, which infuriates one of the attendants on her yacht, Gennarino (Giancarlo Giannini), who is a dyed in the wool Communist, but he dare not say anything to upset his boss because this is a good job, so simply mutters under his breath instead. However, Raffaella and Gennarino will get to know each other a lot better when he agrees to take her out on a dinghy one morning to see the rest of her friends who have gone ahead without her - the outboard motor gives up when they are halfway there, leaving them stranded in the middle of the sea and victim of the current...
In the seventies, one of the most fashionable directors around was Lina Wertmüller, and it's Swept Away that made people sit up and notice. At first it looks to be a tract about left versus right, with lengthy conversations about the merits of both, frequently held at the top of the participants' voices. But it's about more than that, there's also a battle of the sexes to be considered as Gennarino makes plain his disgust that any woman should be allowed to act the way Raffaella does, gambling to all hours, having servants at her beck and call without an ounce of gratitude, and of course making no secret of her opinions, even foisting them on anyone within earshot. When they're stuck in the dinghy, Gennarino has to suffer the loud complaints of his boss but attempts to keep his own opinions to himself - something he finds it increasingly difficult to do.
This is a Robinson Crusoe story if Crusoe were two people at each other's throats, as, after a night at sea, Gennarino manages to get the motor running again but has no idea where they are or how to get to land. As luck would have it, they soon spy an island and make a beeline for it, amusingly destroying the dinghy in the process. They then discover that there is no one on the island except them, and they are effectively shipwrecked, especially without the use of the dinghy. Raffaella has been used to having everything done for her, and begins ordering Gennarino about, but this is the final straw for him and he snaps, refusing to assist her any more. The woman reacts by throwing a string of insults at him, but he gives as good as he gets, and they split up to explore.
Gennarino is much better suited to island life than Raffaella, and is soon catching a lobster and cooking it. This is where the role reversal is introduced, as while she still has to rely on him, Gennarino wants her to be his slave (woman is born to serve man in his unbending view), and forces her to endure the indignity of washing his underwear. She is still angry and unbowed, however, so he slaps her around, which he continues to do for much of the rest of the film - what would the general reaction have been if Swept Away had been directed by a man? The two castaways become a microcosm of society, with the haves exploiting the have-nots, only this time it is the have-nots who are enjoying a new found power, suggesting that they would behave in the same objectionable way as their one time oppressors did once the tables are turned.
The sexual tension is high, as well, as Gennarino is undeniably attracted to Raffaella, and not simply due to his new hold over her. He attempts to rape her, but then changes his mind, deciding that it would be more satisfying if she gave herself to him willingly - yes, he wants her to fall in love with him. And, unlikely as it seems, that is what happens as their differences are gradually forgotten and they attain a kind of balance, although Gennarino still hits her and she takes the more subservient position. It's as if Swept Away is a parable about reaching an understanding between men and women, rich and poor, Northern Italy and Southern Italy, but how long will their arrangement last when they get back to corrosive civilisation? They both want to stay on the island, but circumstances don't assist their dream, and the society they have left behind is to blame for forcing them apart once more. The love story angle is difficult to take after we've seen how obnoxious they both can be, and the tone is shrill throughout, so the result is less provocative and more tiring. Music by Piero Piccioni.
Aka: Travolti da un Insolito Destino nell'Azzurro Mare d'Agosto