Bellissima (Luchino Visconti, 1951, 115')
Writing credits: Cesare Zavattini, Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Francesco Rosi, Luchino Visconti
. Music: Franco Mannino
(Starting music: Donizetti's L'elisiro d'amore).
Anna Magnani-Maddalena Cecconi,
Walter Chiari-Alberto Annovazzi, Tina Apicella-Maria Cecconi,
Gastone Renzelli-Spartaco Cecconi,
Tecla Scarano-Elocution Teacher,
In the studios of Cinecitt'a, director Alessandro Blasetti is doing screen tests to find a young girl for his next film. Among the many mothers bringing in their daughters. there is Maddalena Cecconi, a woman from Rome's lower classes, who dreams of seeing her child, Maria, become a star. Against the wishes of her husband Spartaco, Maddalena exploits every opportunity to realise her hopes: she enrols Maria in a dance and acting course, pays for the photographer and hair-dresser, and gets the girl custom-made clothing. In her excitement, the woman also uncautiously relies on unscrupulous Alberto Annovazzi, who assures her that, in knowing the right people, he can get Maria admitted to the screen tests.
Maddalena thus hands over every penny of her savings to the rogue; he soon reveals his true face, but too late for Maddalena to recover her money. Nevertheless, despite being tricked, Maria is admitted to the screen test and Maddalena sneaks into the auditorium to see her daughter's performance. But the heart-rending scene of her daughter in tears and frightened while the jury is laughing at the girl, opens her eyes.
In the end, even if the girl is accepted, Maddalena regains her pride and decides not to hand over Maria's innocence to a world without moral ethics; indignant, she refuses to sign the contract, only wanting to go home and make peace with her husband. (Summary after RAI)
Visconti interweaves realism and Maddalena's fantastic ambition for her daughter, mixing giddiness and sobriety as he does professional and nonprofessional cast members. He achieves a glorious moment in a sequence of shots: Maddalena loves movies, and we see her watching a showing of Howard Hawks's Red River (1948). It is during the cattle drive - Dimitri Tiomkin's rousing music continues on the soundtrack as the film cuts to daylight and parents and children press into the movie studio for the contest. It may also be relevant that Bellissima, with Alessandro Blasetti playing himself, comes a year after Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950), in which Cecil B deMille also plays himself, and Erich von Stroheim, no less, a former Hollywood director who now works as servant to the woman who had once been his wife and his greatest star.
Cesare Zavattini wrote the story for Bellissima, which Visconti, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, ensuring the contribution of a woman's perspective, and Francesco Rosi turned into likely the best script from which Visconti ever would work. Anna Magnani plays Maddalena. When Bette Davis saw Bellissima, she proclaimed Magnani the greatest actress she had ever seen. (Unbeknown to Davis at the time, Magnani considered her the greatest actress she had ever seen.) In the course of her sublime Maddalena, Magnani is by turns very funny and profoundly moving--indeed, more moving in a maternal role than anyone else in film, with a single exception: Vera Baranovskaya as Pelageya Vlasova, in Pudovkin's Mother (1926).
As if to confirm Visconti's affinity to opera, the film starts with a women's choir (in black orchestral dress, not costume), putting a theatrical frame over the story. Very impressive, very effective, highly operatic.
207 - Bellissima (Luchino Visconti, 1951, 115') -A forgotten treasure - 29/11/2012