Bellissima (1951)

11 04 2009

As of right now, this is definitely my favorite Luchino Visconti film and I don’t think it is a coincidence that it is also his most outright “comedic” effort. Although I’m very fond of everything I’ve seen from him, I have to admit that I get a strong “humorless” feeling from films like Rocco and His Brothers or White Nights. This is almost always a negative attribute for any director to have so it was quite reassuring to see that he was able to make something that didn’t take itself too seriously, but, at the same time, not lose any of his personal touches. This definitely fits that description.

The story is centered around Anna Magnani’s character, Maddalena Cecconi, an overprotective mother that sees a tremendous opportunity for her daughter when legendary director Alessandro Blasetti announces that he is looking for a young girl for his latest film. Magnani’s performance is likely one of the biggest selling points here. She’s not my favorite actress ever, but she is absolutely perfect here. She carries over the tragic tone of her character from Rome, Open City, which could be awkward since the consequences here aren’t nearly as great. But in a way, this tragic acting style works perfectly for a dedicated, gossipy mother who doesn’t have the most worldly of perspectives.

Cecconi is a very naive person, and while Visconti pokes plenty of fun at her delusional viewpoint, he never comes off as condescending. While the comedy here is fairly cynical, it is also nowhere close to being snark. As I already mentioned, it seems like there is no emotional difference between the Magnani in Rome, Open City to the one here. In other words, her performance is completely genuine here. This definitely supports the notion that the film is poking fun at its character, but it is not “above” them.

Visconti’s previous two films, La terra trema and Ossessione, are two of the darkest in the director’s oeuvre, which makes the tone here contrast even more. In a way, this could be marked as something of a turning point is Visconti’s career. Although he would continue making more “serious” films, he began to abandon that exclusively “tragic” arc. It still shows up, especially in Rocco and His Brothers but in that case, the melodrama is personal and not at all social. In a way, he became a more natural filmmaker once he began to break away from the restraints of neo-realism.

The same goes for Rossellini, whose Flowers of St. Francis marked a similar personal turning point a year earlier. Like Rossellini, Visconti has kept the strongest elements of the faux-movement and has expounded upon them. This is one of the most naturalistic films ever made, which only enhances the humor of the situations and the poignancy of the images.



One response

20 04 2009
Jeff Duncanson

Nice blog!

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