The Festival del Cinema di Roma, started just a few days ago, is paying homage to her with a film review covering her whole outstanding and eclectic career as actress. She is Nannarella, the unforgettable Anna Magnani: one among the greatest (maybe the greatest) leading actresses of Italian cinema.
To her as well as to many other superstars of classic Italian cinema is dedicated the retrospective Signore & Signore: Leading Ladies of Italian Cinema, a section of the Italian Film Festival in London.
Curated by Piera de Tassis, the retrospective (from September 27th until October 31st at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith) shows on the big screen the magnificent interpretations of actresses, who became muse for some great film directors: Visconti, Fellini, Antonioni, De Sica, Risi, Pasolini. They are all different women according to their style, character and beauty but all of them are akin for the incomparable talent that made them distinguished icons of the cinematographic Italian art.
Anna Magnani is considered as a symbol of the Italian cinema of the second post-war period thanks above all to her legendary interpretation in the Neorealism manifest movie, Roma citta’ aperta by Roberto Rossellini (1945), which inaugurated a new film movement.
The Italian Film Festival in London chooses to remind Anna Magani by screening one among the many films where she gave a proof of her unique individual acting style, together dramatic and contagiously comic. Bellissima (1951), one of the masterpieces by Luchino Visconti, derived from a subject by Cesare Zavattini.
It is the story of Maddalena Cecconi, a working-class woman from Rome who, being attracted by the apparent glittering cinema industry, transfers on her young daughter her own frustrated illusions she fostered since she was young.
When Maddalena hears about an audition the director Alessandro Blasetti (a real famous director of those times) is seeking a young girl for his next movie, she rushes together with her child Maria (Tina Apicella) to Cinecittà. Among the chaotic crowd of mothers and children, Maria disappears. While searching for her, Maddalena meets for accident Alberto Annovazzi (Walter Chiari), who pretends to be the director assistant and to be able to help her child getting the role by giving him money. The mother, who is determined to get her little daughter into movies even through a huge economical sacrifice, yielded to the demands of the alleged assistant, who just cheated her.
Maria is eventually allowed to the audition, but when Maddalena sees her crying and embarrassed daughter while was humiliated by the laughs of the director and all his assistants, breaks up with anger and indignation and runs away with her. Maddalena is now mortified and disappointed and she realises that it was a mistake trying to push her daughter towards an uncertain future as actress. She finally refuses the fructuous contract the film director proposes to her daughter, whose uncommon expressive capacity he had indeed appreciated.
Anna Magnani plays in this film one of her best and most complicated character. She embodies the painful awareness of a disillusion and the dramatic consciousness of the impossibility to achieve her own dreams that shatter against the cynicism of reality.
Thanks to her exceptional and inimitable dramatic flair, she is able to draw moments of deep tragic emotion. However, in the meantime, you can’t help but laugh at her folk spontaneity, her irreverent sense of humour, her volcanic and instinctive temperament.
This out-of-rules, passionate and ironic actress first begins in the early Thirties both as a prose and dialectal theatre player and she would soon been obtaining great success from public and critics. However, it is the cinema that gives her an international popularity. Besides the masterpiece by Rosellini, her name is associated with films that constitute landmarks of Italian post-war screen. The last one is the memorable 1962 Mamma Roma by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Anna Magnani is indeed an exceptional leading lady who still represents a symbol of the female courage and strength, of the passionate authenticity, of the timeless and non-conventional beauty.
By Maria Teresa Sette
From START – Italian Art and Culture in London