(The Most Beautiful)
Anna Magnani, Walter Chiari, Tina Apicella, Alessandro Blasetti,
“What is acting after all?” Maddalena (Magnani) rhetorically asks before the mirror in Visconti’s melodrama of mother love and misplaced ambition. Magnani’s extraordinary performance is its own answer. As Maddalena, a working-class mother desperate to get her young daughter a shot at stardom through a Cinecittà casting call, Magnani turns what might have been a simplistic caricature of a domineering stage mamma into a fully rendered character, both hilarious and tragically human. Visconti’s direction similarly refuses to distinguish between satire and sincerity; even while it mocks the business of moviemaking, Bellissima is an exquisite example of the filmmaker’s craft.