Lina Wertmüller, the Italian filmmaker who made history in 1977 when she became the first woman to be nominated for the Best Director Oscar, has died at the age of 93.
Her passing was widely reported in the Italian press including in La Republica, which noted that she died at home in her birthplace of Rome.
Born in 1928, Wertmüller described her childhood as adventurous, being expelled from 15 different Catholic schools. A love of comic books was a key influence in her getting into the entertainment business, particularly Flash Gordon, and she became determined to work in film and theater from a young age.
After graduating from drama school in Rome, she began producing plays and worked in a variety of roles including as a set designer, publicist and puppeteer; the latter saw her spend years touring with an avant-garde puppet group.
In the 1960s she set her sights on film and through a mutual acquaintance met Federico Fellini, who became a key figure for her, including employing her as an assistant director on his seminal work 8 ½.
Wertmüller’s debut feature was The Basilisks, which was scored by Ennio Morriconne, and she began to work consistently in film throughout the 1960s. It was the 1970s, however, that saw the filmmaker rise to international acclaim. Pics including The Seduction of Mimi and Swept Away were well received, with the former winning David di Donatello awards in Italy, and the latter being named the top foreign film of 1975 by the National Board of Review, USA.
It was Seven Beauties, the 1975 comedy-drama following an Italian everyman who deserts the army during the Second World War but is captured and sent to a prison camp, doing anything he can to survive, that cemented her reputation on the international film scene.
The film was nominated for an impressive four Oscars: Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actor for Giancarlo Giannini, and Best Writing (Original Screenplay) and Best Director for Wertmüller.
The Director nod made her the first ever woman to be nominated for that Oscar, a feat not repeated until 1993 when Jane Campion was nominated for The Piano (Katheryn Bigelow was the first woman to win in 2010 for The Hurt Locker).
Following Wertmüller’s nomination, she signed a four-picture deal with Warner Bros to make English-language films, resulting in her English-language debut A Night Full of Rain, which again starred Giannini, alongside Candice Bergen. The pic’s lack of commercial success saw the studio cancel the deal. However, Wertmüller continued to work successfully through the 1980s.
Wertmüller is also the holder of a Guinness world record for longest film title – Un fatto di sangue nel comune di Siculiana fra due uomini per causa di una vedova. Si sospettano moventi politici. Amore-Morte-Shimmy. Lugano belle. Tarantelle. Tarallucci e vino – which was abridged to Blood Feud for its international release.
In 2015, Valerio Ruiz helmed the biographical documentary Behind the White Glasses, which involved Wertmüller reflecting on her life’s work.
In 2019 she was the recipient of an honorary Academy Award, as well as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and she continued to work in theater until her death.
She was married to art designer Enrico Job, who died in 2008, and leaves behind one adopted daughter.