Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Michelangelo worked with some of the most beautiful and finest actors of the past fifty years ranging from Alain Delon to Sophie Marceau and Jeanne Moreau to Jack Nicholson. One actress inspired Antonioni above all of the others though and she would be the center of several of his films, as well as his life, for many years.
If there is a face that defines the European Art film of the sixties then it belongs to Maria Louisa Ceciarelli, or as she came to be known in the film world, Monica Vitti.
The striking Vitti was born in Rome in the early 1930's and after appearing in just a handful of Italian film and tv roles in the fifties (including some minor work with Antonioni in 57) became an overnight sensation with her audacious and powerful turn in Antonioni's L'AVVENTURA. With a face unlike any other and a powerful stare that seems to cut through the screen, Vitti was not like anything that had ever been seen before in cinema and Antonioni's strange masterpiece was the perfect vehicle for her. It is impossible to imagine the film without her, it is a clear example of an ultimate connection between an actor and a role.
After working uncredited on Pasolini's ACCATONE (1961), Monica re teamed with Michelangelo on the powerful L'ECLISSE (1962) opposite an equally beautiful and haunted Alain Delon. Watching the two of these great icons together in this film is an absolute pleasure and at times they don't even look like they could be from this planet. L'ECLISSE is one of Antonioni's most perfect films and Vitti is again absolutely unforgettable as the projection of his most unique and lasting dreams.
Monica would continue to work for the next three years in a variety of roles until Antonioni gave her what is, in my opinion, her finest role in RED DESERT (1964). Vitti is heartbreaking in this film as a woman who is increasingly becoming more and more isolated and disconnected not only from the world around her, but also herself. The film's final moments with her and her child staring up at a cloudy polluted sky is one of the most defining, if often, overlooked moments in Antonioni's canon.
Monica would continue to be one of the most in demand Italian actresses of the sixties and her great roles after RED DESERT include her underrated turn as MODESTY BLAISE (1966) and Jean Valere's THE SCARLET LADY (1969). She would continue to impress throughout the seventies, often in comedies but also in some heavy dramatic roles including a turn for Bunuel, before she would reunite with the maestro for THE MYSTERY OF OBERWALD in 1981.
She would sadly retire from the screen after starring in her own SECRET SCANDAL in 1989. She leaves behind a legacy of some of the most memorable film roles in cinema history. I find her work to be increasingly resonate and I think her influence hasn't accurately been measured. Antonioni was one of the great originals in cinema history but I'm sure even he would have admitted that his films would not have been the same without this remarkable women and her haunted, penetrating stare.