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Bellissima: Leading Ladies of the Italian Screen

July 6, 2012 - August 31, 2012


If the decades following World War II were the Italian cinema’s golden age, Italian actresses were the ones who made it sparkle and gleam. The earthy, mercurial Anna Magnani embodied the unvarnished emotional and moral force of neorealism. Giulietta Masina’s wide-eyed waifs animated Federico Fellini’s fabulism. With lusty physicality or smoldering splendor, stars like Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, and Claudia Cardinale seduced audiences worldwide. Showcasing these celebrated performers in iconic roles, this series also presents stellar performances by less widely known actresses, such as the indomitable Tina Pica, as well as familiar faces in unfamiliar places: how about Antonioni icon Monica Vitti in a madcap farce?

Of course, any tribute to great Italian performers is also a tribute to great Italian directors, and the series features works by Fellini, Roberto Rossellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luchino Visconti, Alberto Sordi, and others, many in imported 35mm prints. It amounts to a summer tour through postwar Italian film, taking in both major cinematic landmarks and less traveled byways, towering monuments of neorealism and obscure gems of commedia all’italiana. Each stop along the route brings an encounter with another unforgettable actress. To each of them, we say: bravissima.

Juliet Clark

Friday, July 6, 2012
7:00 p.m. Le amiche
Michelangelo Antonioni (Italy, 1955). Restored 35mm Print! This early Antonioni tour de force masterfully weaves a web of relationships among an ensemble of desperate upper-class Italian housewives. (104 mins)

Saturday, July 7, 2012
8:30 p.m. La strada
Federico Fellini (Italy, 1954). Fellini's muse, Giulietta Masina, modeled her timeless character Gelsomina after Chaplin's tramp. She stars with Anthony Quinn in this classic that Martin Scorsese has called "the cornerstone of Fellini's work.” (107 mins)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012
7:00 p.m. Nights of Cabiria
Federico Fellini (Italy, 1956). The great Giulietta Masina portrays the spunky prostitute Cabiria in this humorous and ultimately transformative story of the survival of the human spirit by one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers. “The masterpiece of Masina’s collaboration with Fellini” (Albert Johnson). (116 mins)

Friday, July 13, 2012
7:00 p.m. The Leopard
Luchino Visconti (Italy, 1963) Restored Print! A compelling Claudia Cardinale anchors Visconti’s effortless integration of family history into a panoramic account of the Risorgimento. “Perhaps no film captures the Proustian aesthetic more firmly” (Warren Sonbert). (186 mins)

Saturday, July 14, 2012
6:00 p.m. Juliet of the Spirits
Federico Fellini (Italy, 1965). A bourgeois housewife (a mesmerizing Giulietta Masina) embraces a world of fantasy in one of Fellini’s most spectacular, imaginative works. (148 mins)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012
7:00 p.m. Sandra
Luchino Visconti (Italy, 1965). Studio Vault Print! Visconti’s somber mood piece is an Elektra story of madness and incestuous passions in a family haunted by secrets and the shadow of the Holocaust. Claudia Cardinale stars with Jean Sorel and Marie Bell. (102 mins)

Saturday, July 21, 2012
6:00 p.m. The Girl with a Suitcase
Valerio Zurlini (Italy/France, 1961) Imported Print! With this film, Claudia Cardinale etched her wistful, playful character whose edge comes from the reality that she never knows where her next meal is coming from. Claudia plays a showgirl seduced away from her act by a playboy aristocrat, only to become the object of fascination for the man’s teenage brother. (113 mins)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012
7:00 p.m. Open City
Roberto Rossellini (Italy, 1945). Restored Print! A group of women and children try to shelter resistance forces from the Nazis. A Rossellini/Magnani classic—as moving and agonizing today as it was in 1945. (106 mins)

Saturday, July 28, 2012
5:30 p.m. Bellissima
Luchino Visconti (Italy, 1953). Imported Print! Visconti is in an unusually comic mode for this satire on urban life and movie-land ambition. The incomparable Anna Magnani plays a mother trying to launch her young daughter in show business. (114 mins)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012
7:00 p.m. Mamma Roma
Pier Paolo Pasolini (Italy, 1962). Pasolini captured the great Anna Magnani “like a found object” (Village Voice) in her role as a spirited prostitute; her downtrodden exuberance stands in for Rome itself. (105 mins)

Friday, August 10, 2012
7:00 p.m. L’amore
Roberto Rossellini (Italy, 1948). An epigraph from Rossellini calls this two-part film “an homage to the art of Anna Magnani.” Based on a Cocteau play, part one focuses on the voice—and face—of a desolate Magnani, while in part two a coarse, funny Magnani plays a goatherd impregnated by a stranger (Federico Fellini!). (78 mins)

Saturday, August 11, 2012
6:00 p.m. Bread, Love and Dreams
Luigi Comencini (Italy, 1953). Imported Print! Gina Lollobrigida gives a comedic, tongue-in-cheek performance as the village gamine in this rollicking Italian comedy; her rags can’t quite cover her almost animal “femininity.” Lollobrigida was the quintessential maggiorata: bread, love, and dream all rolled into one. (93 mins)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012
7:00 p.m. Vanina Vanini
Roberto Rossellini (Italy, 1961). Studio Vault Print! Sandra Milo won Best Actress at Venice with her performance as the daughter of a Roman aristocrat who falls in love with a wounded patriot. Based on a story by Stendhal, Rossellini’s last commercial feature is set in 1824, during the Risorgimento. (113 mins)

Friday, August 17, 2012
7:00 p.m. Old-Fashioned World
Mario Soldati (Italy, 1941). Imported Print! In Austrian-occupied Lombardy in 1850, a young aristocrat (Massimo Serato) marries the humble Luisa (Alida Valli), incurring the wrath of his grandmother, a marchioness. This was the role that established Valli as a serious actress. (106 mins)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012
7:00 p.m. Oh! Sabella!
Dino Risi (Italy/France, 1957). Imported Print! Veteran character actress Tina Pica dominates Dino Risi’s boisterous provincial comedy as Sabella, a grandmother as gravelly, ancient, and immovable as the hills around the little village whose populace she terrorizes. (95 mins)

Friday, August 24, 2012
7:00 p.m. The Widower
Dino Risi (Italy, 1959) Imported Print! In Risi’s rarely screened comedy of commerce, marriage, and murder, Alberto Sordi exercises his talent for emphatic incompetence as Alberto Nardi, a cash-strapped Italian industrialist whose elegant wife, Elvira (Franca Valeri), holds him in well-justified contempt. (100 mins)

Friday, August 31, 2012
7:00 p.m. Drama of Jealousy
Ettore Scola (Italy/Spain, 1970) Imported Print! Monica Vitti turns her Antonioni-honed angst to parodic purposes in this antic avant-farce. Vitti plays one point of an irregular triangle with feckless leftist bricklayer Marcello Mastroianni and sullen pizza maker Giancarlo Giannini in this satire and celebration of narrative excess. (107 mins)

Series curated by Senior Film Curator Susan Oxtoby. Thanks to the following individuals and institutions for their assistance with this retrospective: Camilla Cormanni and Rosaria Focarelli, Cinecittà Luce S.p.A.; Patrizia Gambarotta, Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco; Laura Argento, Cineteca Nazionale; James Quandt and Brad Deane, TIFF Cinematheque; Grover Crisp, Sony Pictures; Brian Belovarac, Janus Films/Criterion Collection; and Eric Di Bernardo, Rialto Pictures.