A young woman dressed in somber clothing named Agnese (Stefania Sandrelli) impassively, but determinedly, navigates her way through a provincial Sicilian town on her way to confession trailed by a lumbering, but accommodating chaperone (Rosetta Urzì). A less than nurturing audience with the attending priest at the confessional soon reveals the reason for her seeming haste to unburden her troubled soul, as a flashback shows members of the Ascalone family taking an afternoon nap as the houseguest, Agnese’s older sister Matilde’s (Paola Biggio) fiancé, Peppino Califano (Aldo Puglisi), seizes the opportunity to distract Agnese away from her studies through transparent orations of poetry and efficiently whisks her into the kitchen where he promptly – and unrelentingly – begins to seduce the reluctant and unsuspecting young woman. Castigated by the priest for yielding to Peppino’s sexual advances and left with little direction beyond an indiscreetly audible order to keep praying, the guilt-ridden Agnese embarks on her own tacit, makeshift penance of self-mortification, incessantly praying the rosary throughout the evening and sleeping with rocks underneath the bedcovers until one day when her mother discovers a torn scrap of paper left from an impulsive, thwarted letter to the timid and cowardly Peppino that had been flushed down the toilet. Fretting over the potential social scandal over his daughter’s apparent deflowering by a secret lover, Don Vincenzo (Saro Urzì) scuttles a midwife from a neighboring town after dark in order to perform a discreet (albeit uproariously farcical) examination. With his suspicions confirmed, Don Vincenzo has little recourse but to force the Califano family’s hand and demand that Peppino marry Agnese immediately in order to stave off the inevitable town gossip over the young woman’s impending motherhood. However, when Peppino refuses to assent to the coerced marriage proposal under the hypocritical claims of being denied the right to marry a virgin wife, Don Vincenzo uses his tangential familial connections with a prominent judge to devise an elaborate (and ridiculously convoluted) plot to save the family’s honor.
Pietro Germi creates an incisive and wickedly irreverent satire on manners, duty, honor, and socially cultivated machismo in Seduced and Abandoned. From the extended, nearly wordless opening sequence that juxtaposes Agnese’s clerical censure (note the prominent placement of an oversized cross in the town square) against transitional images of the slumbering Ascalone family – and in particular, the comical form of the shirtless, rotund patriarch audibly snoring – as the mustachioed cad awkwardly forces his affection, Germi presents a surreal, grotesque, exaggerated portrait of human behavior that has been distorted through the repressive (and hypocritically biased) prism of prevailing social etiquette and moral values: Don Vincenzo’s association with the penniless (and toothless), suicidal Baron Rizieri (Leopoldo Trieste) in order to maintain an appearance of class mobility; the serendipitously timed mine explosion as Don Vincenzo storms off after learning of Peppino’s refusal to consent to marriage from the visiting local priest; the extreme close-up shots of people mocking the family outside the courthouse that elliptically transforms into Agnese’s haunted nightmare (note Don Vincenzo’s corresponding change in wardrobe from light to dark colored suits as his family’s honor becomes increasingly at stake). It is through this caricatured exposition of fostered, obsolete elitism and amoral opportunism that the film serves as a relevant, contemporary portrait of Sicily’s (then) socio-economic climate: an absurd and insidiously entrenched cultural dichotomy borne of hollow honor, perverted justice, and coercive, irretractable obligation.
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