Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Italy, 1951. Film Bellissima. Story by Cesare Zavattini, Screenplay by Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Francesco Rosi, Luchino Visconti. Cinematography by Piero Portalupi, Paul Ronald. Produced by Savlo D’Angelo. Music by Franco Mannino. Production Design by Gianni Polidori. Costume Design by Piero Tosi. Film Editing by Mario Serandrei.
Anna Magnani rules this charmer by Luchino Visconti, a surprisingly light comedy from the director of mostly hard-hitting dramas. She plays a Roman housewife who enters her daughter in a contest at Cinecitta to be the star of a soon-to-be-produced film. The producers are looking for the most beautiful little girl in Italy, and every mother has trotted out her primly dressed daughter to put her on display.
Magnani obsesses over new dresses, a haircut, dancing lessons, acting lessons, eventually threatening to unseat the child’s mental health and her own sense of dignity and pride. Along the way she befriends a studio employee who uses her for money and maybe a little bit of action too.
Unlike in other neo-realist Italian films of the period, this oppressed heroine makes sure to never sink no matter what life throws her way, her constant prattling on and wringing hands are refreshing instead of annoying, her performance a full-bodied tour de force.