Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Great Ones Vol. 1 (Side B Track 5) Stefania Sandrelli

One of the main things that struck me upon re-viewing Bernardo Bertolucci's astonishing THE CONFORMIST on dvd was how incredibly good Italian actress Stefania Sandrelli was in it. Playing the consevative, and slightly shallow, fiancee of Jean-Louis Trintignant Sandrelli interjects what could have been a near invisible role with great humanity. Dominique Sanda was the actress that I remembered clearly from THE CONFORMIST but I was frankly blown away by Miss Sandrelli on this most recent viewing.
I have become quite enamored with Stefania Sandrelli since re-watching Bertolucci's masterpiece and have begun to delve deeper into her huge and varied filmography. An astonishingly good actress and jaw droppingly beautiful woman Sandrelli has since the early 60's appeared in over 100 features and continues going strong to this day.
The first thing one notices about her filmography is that almost every genre is represented: horror, art-house, comedies, heavy dramas, erotica...you name it.
I have only seen a small portion of her work and I wanted to just highlight a few.

The Tuscany born Sandrelli made her first big international splash as a teenager in Pietro Germi's DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE opposite Marcello Mastroianni in 1961. This hugely influential film was a hit all over the world and her work as Angela is very memorable. The film is currently available in a fine Criterion edition on dvd and pops up on Turner Classic Movies often.

Sandrelli would work non-stop after DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE and would appear in films over the next few years with directors ranging from Jean-Pierre Melville to Bernardo Bertolucci, who she would work with for the first in 1968's PARTNER opposite Pierre Clementi and Tina Aumont. Highlight's of the mid sixties includes more work with Germi, especially worth noting of these films is the powerful SEDUCED AND ABANDONED (also available from Criterion).

PARTNER marks a change for Sandrelli and the partnership with director Bertolucci would proves a fruitful one. After the Godardian PARTNER they worked on the aforementioned CONFORMIST and the overwhelmingly ambitious masterpiece 1900. PARTNER and THE CONFORMIST are both still available on fine special edition dvds from No Shame and Paramount. 1900 continues to cause controversy, 30 years after it's release, and was recently pulled from circulation once again.

One of my favorite performances by Sandrelli is in Paolo Cavara's underrated 1971 giallo THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA opposite the great Giancarlo Giannini. Again featured as the wife in what should have been a thankless role Sandrelli adds a surprisingly human and moving element to this very violent Giallo. Her scenes with Giannini are incredibly sweet and it is a great opportunity to watch two terrific actors playing off each other in the midst of a genre film. TARANTULA's climax in which Giannini rushes home to save Sandrelli from the crazed killer is one of the most memorable in the entire Giallo canon. They are both absolutely inspiring in this fine Italian thriller.

Just after BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA Francis Ford Coppola wanted to cast her as Al Pacino's Sicilian wife in THE GODFATHER. Sandrelli was already signed on to work opposite Dustin Hoffman in Germi's ALFREDO ALFREDO so she couldn't do it. The role in THE GODFATHER would have been an interesting one and it would have been fantastic to see her work with Pacino, but I wonder if it might have unbalanced the film a bit?

One of Sandrelli's most daring performances comes in Tinto Brass' 1983 film THE KEY. Highly erotic and at times surprisingly explicit Sandrelli throws herself completely into the role and it remains one of the great performances by a Brass leading lady.

Since THE KEY Sandrelli has continued to work in many Italian and international productions including Bigas Luna's great JAMON JAMON opposite Penelope Cruz as well as many Italian tv productions. Recent interviews for the Criterion collection show her to be still as vibrant, beautiful and interesting as ever.

I am excited about delving deeper into her work and offer this small tribute to her. I highly recommend all of the above films as an introduction to one of the greatest and most beautiful Italian actresses of the sixties, seventies and eighties.


Tim Lucas said...

While reviewing DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE for SIGHT & SOUND, I used the adjective "sacred" in reference to Stefania Sandrelli's chin. That's literally how it struck me while watching the movie, but my editor trimmed it, which I regretted. Such a beautiful woman, and I'd never seen her so young, unaffected, and seemingly pure before.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Tim for the comment. I love referring to her chin as 'sacred'. That is absolutely perfect, I am sorry Sight and Sound cut it.
Sight and Sound is a magazine I wish I could pick up every issue but finances only allow that for Watchdog and Mojo.
However we do carry Sight and Sound here where I work so I will pull that back issue and read your review for Divorce Italian Style.
Thanks again for commenting and reading...I couldn't agree more with you about her in that period.

Anonymous said...

Stephania Sandrelli is beautiful and talented actress but it is a pity you would not see her ( and many other Europian actors and movies)in the USA. I really love Italian movies and enjoyed watching them while I lived in Russia.
Thank you for your website.