E1 Entertainment // 1951 // 114 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // March 14th, 2012
The most beautiful girl in Italy.
Two of the greatest talents of the Italian cinema team up for this terrific, if little remembered, film.
Anna Magnani (Rome, Open City) is Maddalena, a mother desperate to get her daughter cast in an upcoming film. They attend an open casting call, where the child is invited back for a second audition.
Maddalena, a nurse, is in a stormy marriage and living in a low-rent apartment. She wants more for her daughter, Maria. But Maria, who's only 5 (the casting is for girls 6 to 8 years old), doesn't seem to be a born "star." She's perfectly cute, but she doesn't shine like the other girls, who sing, dance, and do impressions.
Despite her daughter's apparent lack of marketable talent -- not to mention, seeming disinterest in the whole thing -- Maddalena presses on. She and her husband fight loud and long about the expenses involved with the enterprise, including acting lessons and a pricey dress to make an impression on the producers. Maddalena also turns over a hefty sum to a shady character named Annovazzi (Walter Chiari, Chimes at Midnight), who claims to have an in with the production and will use his influence to help Maria. Annovazzi also seems quite taken with Maddalena, a situation she finds both amusing, and perhaps, a bit tempting.
Neo-realist films are generally pretty downbeat affairs, dealing with impoverished people in Post-WW2 Italy. While Bellissima certainly fits that mold, and contains scenes of genuinely affecting poignancy, it's hardly a somber experience. In fact, Luchino Visconti (The Leopard) has fashioned his film as a comedy, a satire on the film business as seen through the frequently desperate eyes of outsiders. It's not laugh-out-loud hilarious or pratfall-heavy; rather, Bellissima is a sharply observed comment on the lengths people will go to chase an elusive -- and often misunderstood -- dream.
The earthy Magnani and the sly Visconti make for a potent combination. This is a showcase role for the star, and Magnani brings a passion to the role that is fearsome, raw, and just flat-out sensational -- not to mention, quite funny, her too-seldom used gift for comic timing on full display. Maddalena's somewhat destructive single-mindedness could have made for a tragic tale, but the director and star keep this from sinking into bathos by creating a scenario and characters grounded in a kind of exaggerated reality. Magnani's ruthlessly ambitious stage mom is a poke at all those parents who try to push their children into the film industry, though by contemporary standards, she's a model of restraint, bringing barely enough crazy to inspire a Bravo series.
God bless the child who works with Magnani, but Tina Apicella, who in her lone film role plays little Maria, seems not at all intimidated by her ferocious co-star. Maria is supposed to be a normal, unaffected little girl; Apicella seems to be a normal, unaffected little girl. Like her character, she's endearing because she's not a professional.
The disc from E1 offers a clean, full-frame transfer and a clear mono audio track. The only extra is a trailer.
Bellissima is one of those obscure gems that should have more recognition. E1's technically adequate bare bones release is a little under the radar, but it's worth seeking out.
Review content copyright © 2012 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Italian)
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 1951
MPAA Rating: Not Rated