There are actresses, there are divas and then there are divas whose personality and beauty disrupt all the canons and the clichés even of divismo. This is the case of Anna Magnani, the subject of a recent film retrospective at the Lincoln Center in New York. Most of her films were set in Rome, her home city. From Rome Open City (dir. Roberto Rossellini, 1946), to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Mamma Roma (1962), Mario Monicelli’s Risate di gioia (1960), and Luchino Visconti’s Bellissima. In 1956 she received an Oscar for Daniel Mann’s film The Rose Tattoo, the first Oscar awarded to an Italian actress. Bellissima and Roma seem to be the two words that like micro universes define Anna Magnani. Her last appearance was in Federico Fellini’s Roma in 1972. One year later Anna Magnani passed away in her city. This is the dialogue in the scene from Fellini’s Roma in which his camera follows the actress through the streets of Rome on her way home. We hear Fellini’s voice and we see Magnani:
Fellini: «This lady, who is going back home, walking along the wall of an old patrician building, is a Roman actress, Anna Magnani, who could also be the symbol of the city».
Magnani: «What am I?»
Fellini: «A Rome that could be seen as a she wolf and a vestal virgin, aristocratic and peasant, grim and clownesque, I could go on and on until tomorrow morning».
Magnani: «Come on Federí, go back to sleep».
Fellini: «Can I ask you a question?»
Magnani: «No, I don’t trust you. Bye, good night!»
No testament better than thus attests to the verve and geniality of Fellini and Magnani.
Anna Magnani represents a beauty type and style that continue to appeal to our contemporary world, with or without make-up, with humble clothing or with high heels and sexy cleavage. Her beauty and sensuality are authentic. Her disheveled unbourgeois hairdo is not typical of any signora or like that of bomb shells like Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobrigida who in the post WWII years and beyond dominated the scene in terms of beauty types, Italian style. Their iconic beauty spoke a different language from Anna Magnani’s. Her intense gaze and her distressed elegance are incredibly modern. And the simplicity an elegance with which she wears clothes on film remind us of the experiments and vintage excursions of the designer Antonio Marras. Indeed, I am surprised that he has not yet thought of Magnani as inspiration for one of his collections, always rich in references to the arts and cultures and women with a strong personality or who had a deep impact. During the Dolce Vita years, Anna Magnani frequented the Rome-based fashion houses of the likes of Emilio Schuberth or Fernanda Gattinoni. Both in the set photos and in those taken during some of her public appearances her gestural performances bring to life her rebellious and tormented spirit. Some pictures remind us of these moments and bring her back to us in all her humanity, beauty and poetry.