Visconti is the most emotive and extravagant of the Italian neo-realists.Bellissima an early film has been restored to an amazing print by The Masters of Cinema series.Somewhere between the neo-realism of La Terra Trema and the baroque stylizations of The Leopard and Death in Venice lies the stylized realism of Bellissima.He loved working with stars(Bogarde,Lancaster) and he'd always wanted to work with Anna Magnani.From a story by Zavattini(a neo-realist writer) set in post-war Italy,Maddalena Cecconi(Magnani) is a woman from the lower classes abused by her husband Spartaco(Renzelli),who is obsessed to make her young daughter Maria(Apicella) a star in the cinema industry.She expects a better life for Maria-"she musn't become a loser,she musn't depend on anybody or get beaten like me"-and she sacrifices her marriage and savings paying acting and ballet teachers,dress,hairdresser and bribe for the production assistant con- man Alberto(Chiari) to make her dream come true.When she spies upon the director's appraisal of Maria's test, Maddalena realizes the cruelty and truth of the entertainment industry. The victims of the cinema,from the elderly actress with pancake make-up existing in a parasitical state to Iris,the former starlet consigned to the editing room,are there for Maddalena to see.Magnani gives a fiery performance in this clash between illusion and reality,with the presence of a diva,an actress who'd become a star, is allowed to steal every scene with the gusto of improvisation but also enhances the roles of the non-professional actors(Maria and husband)The film opens with singing from Donizetti's opera,L'elisir d'amore,using "the charlatan's theme" (critical of the director), setting the tone of the film which is a comedy and satire on the film industry. Maddalena hears of a motion picture audition to find "the most beautiful bambina in Rome" and decides to enter Maria.As the pushy stage mother,she takes her child to CineCitta,the historic Italian film studio,pitting Maria against hundreds of other little girls.Because Maria has no formal training,her natural talent stands apart from the other packaged and processed girls.The magnificent acting of Magnani and Apicella,as mother and daughter are truly spell-binding and tragicomic.Visconti gives the film a political dimension by showing the superiority of the working class to the middle class,the nobility behind disillusion.Poverty is more acceptable,ameliorated by the love of one's family.At the end Maria is allowed to have uninterrupted sleep.
on 29 November 2012
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
This 1951 film by neo-realist and, at times, 'king of melodrama', Luchino Visconti (which is based on a story by Cesare Zavattini, who also wrote Bicycle Thieves) could be regarded as being one of the first films to explore the potential exploitative effect of 'a film career' on child actors (or, in this case, actress) - at least (off the top of my head), I can't think of any others that precede Visconti's film. Bellissima is also particularly interesting (and, of course, increasingly relevant today) in the way it explores the length to which parents (in this case, specifically a mother) will go in order to secure (potential) 'fame and stardom' for their offspring. Although, for me, Bellissima does not rank with Visconti's masterpieces (Rocco And His Brothers, The Leopard, La Terra Trema, etc) and is a little over-melodramatic at times, Anna Magnani's brilliant performance, Visconti's earthy depiction of working-class Rome and the film's powerful final half-hour make it certainly worthy of a four-star rating.
Magnani's performance is pretty much flawless here (if embodying perhaps a little too much motherly passion on occasion), and it is difficult to imagine anyone else in the role of the 'part-time' (diabetic) nurse, Maddalena Cecconi, whose real (single-minded) obsession is to guide (and chide) her 5-year old daughter Maria (Tina Apicella) to win the Cinecittà 'Prettiest Girl In Rome' contest, thereby guaranteeing Maria future film stardom, and, at the same time, substituting for her mother's own (unfulfilled) dream of cinematic fame as well as rescuing Maddalena and husband, Spartaco (Gastone Renzelli) from encroaching poverty (and securing their new dream home). Visconti (and black-and-white cinematographers Piero Portalupi and Paul Ronald) do a great job conjuring up working-class Rome - mothers shouting to one another from tenement windows, gossiping, singing and trying to avoid black cats, whilst Maddalena's life is a constant (noisy) harangue, either to herself, her family, neighbours or 'patients'.
Similarly, Visconti creates a convincing and increasingly cynical portrait of Cinecittà's film business, as competing, jealous mothers argue over their infant charges and Maddalena realises that her 'inside (film studio) contact' (the impressive) Walter Chiari's smooth-talking, duplicitous Alberto Annovazzi will only be willing to 'guarantee' Maria's success either by giving up the last of her savings or by payment in kind (which Maddalena steadfastly refuses to do, in a last show of dignity). For good measure, Visconti also cast real-life film director, Alessandro Blasetti, as the director of his film within a film, and provides nice touches by name-dropping The Red Shoes and by Maddalena espying Red River playing on the nearby open-air cinema.
Although, as mentioned above, Visconti (and his cast) do overdo the animated arguments a little (particularly in a later scene between husband and wife), the film builds to a brilliant climax in the key scene between Maddalena and Liliana Mancini's film-editor (and once potential film starlet), Iris, as the latter finally prises open the former's eyes to the potential future for her daughter. For me, therefore, not absolutely top-notch Visconti (and in keeping with Italian 'film practise', the film has been inexplicably, and irritatingly, dubbed into (other) Italian voices), but a film well worth seeing, not least for Magnani's intoxicating performance (plus the Master Of Cinema DVD has a number of interesting extras).
on 20 May 2015
This is a review of the `Masters of Cinema' edition of this DVD. I have been collecting the films of Luchino Visconti, but the subject-matter of his 1951 film `Bellissima' did not appeal. How wrong I was! This film is not a masterpiece, but it is close. And in it Visconti not only comments on society's fixation with fame and stardom, but also exposes the corruption of the film industry itself.
At heart it is a cruel but not malicious comedy (fate is cruel, man is malicious) whose joke is on the impatient, loquacious, pushy (and ultimately tragic) mother, superbly played by Anna Magnani. She puts forward her young daughter as a contender for stardom when a Cinecitta producer advertises for a girl to star in his latest film. The mother thus somehow has to find time and money for her daughter's acting lessons, still photographs, new dress, dancing lessons, a visit to a hair salon, and an agent. But she balks at sleeping with the agent - nicely played by Walter Chiari; instead, she merely bribes him with money she can ill-afford. What is so remarkable about the whole story is that the child herself never once asks to be a film star!
If I was remaking the film in the modern day, I would make a couple of major changes. Firstly I would have the child played by the mother's son rather than daughter, as this closer relationship would add to the sense of emotional tension. Secondly, although the ending as it stands is moving (if lacking credibility), I would end the film at the point where the mother and child leave the studio for the last time, having suffered their final humiliation, and before the `happy ending'.
This disc, as with all in the `Masters of Cinema' series, comes with some good extras. First up is a thirty-minute documentary called `Talking About Bellissima' in Italian with English subtitles. Here, the likes of Francesco Rosi, Franco Zeffirelli, and Suso Cecchi d'Amico (who worked on most of Visconti's films in a scriptwriting capacity) discuss the film's making and subsequent history. There is an additional ten-minute interview with Rosi.
In addition, the accompanying booklet includes a thirteen-page essay by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith; and two extracts from interviews with Visconti, one in 1951 - "'Bellissima' is the story ... of one woman, or, better, of a crisis in her personal history" - the other in 1959. All in all, then, a good package.
on 30 June 2015
Excellent value .Speedy service.