Bellissima (Luchino Visconti / Italy, 1951):

The road to Cinecittà, a satirical showbiz take (cf. Butler's That's Right—You're Wrong), the neorealist's taste for illusion. (Luchino Visconti assesses the situation with the introductory wink, a lavish symphonic orchestra at the service of a radio commercial.) A child role in a new movie triggers a bambina cattle-call, a swarming view of the studio quickly recognizes Anna Magnani in the crowd, in long-shot yet already overpowering. The stage mother of all stage mothers, she elbows her way to the front to present a pea-sized daughter (Tina Apicella) not exactly in love with the camera. "Study and sweat" are the would-be starlet's regimen, there are photographs and ballet classes and flowers for the crew plus the young production assistant on the make (Walter Chiari). Victims of the industry—the worn diva still in silent-era eye-shadow, the discarded ingenué tucked away in the editing room—fill the way, though nothing can distract the Mamma caught in the stardom whirl. "What is acting, after all," she asks before a mirror, just one aside in a running monologue on a quotidian theater. (One bravura Magnani pirouette rises out of a titanic shouting match with her put-upon husband, it goes from sobs to guffaws before an audience of prying neighbors.) A turbulent Roman comedy on working-class dreams and maternal bulldozers: Hiding in the projection booth while suits cackle at her daughter's disastrous screen test, the heroine sharpens her gaze into an annihilating laser. "You see? This is cinema." Alessandro Blasetti playing himself for Visconti like DeMille for Wilder, Dwan's Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm for the auditions, then reverberations for Fellini (Lo Sceicco Bianco) and Antonioni (La Signora Senza Camelie). The child's much-needed rest concludes the follia, though not before Hollywood voices waft through the window. "Ah, Burt Lancaster! Molto simpatico." With Gastone Renzelli, Tecla Scarano, and Liliana Mancini. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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