Bellissima (1951)

Anna Magnani is at her raucous best, playing a mother hoping that her daughter would become a child star, as this early comedy-drama by Visconti reveals the exploitative nature of the film industry.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,550

Dir. Luchino Visconti
1951 | Italy | Comedy/Drama | 114 min | 1.37:1 | Italian
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Anna Magnani, Walter Chiari, Tina Apicella
Plot: A woman from the lower class desperately tries to get her daughter into the movies.
Awards: Official Selection (Berlinale)
Source: Istituto Luce Cinecitta

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Film Industry; Mother & Daughter
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

While this might be an early curiosity for fans of Luchino Visconti, you will leave with Anna Magnani firmly etched in your mind.  Magnani, famous for her role in Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945), is at her raucous best here in Bellissima, playing Maddalena, a working-class mother hoping that her daughter would become a child star. 

This is after the Cinecitta announces an open call for young girls to audition for a role in a new production.  Maddalena does all she can to push her daughter up the recruitment ladder, including attracting the attention of a young man who seems to have connections with the relevant producers and directors. 

“So many people ended up badly thinking they’d make it in films.”

While Magnani is utterly explosive as an actress, Tina Apicella impresses as the little girl who becomes a pawn in a game for adults.  Like many films about the film industry that preceded it, or would come later, Bellissima similarly reveals its exploitative nature and the false dreams that come attached to it. 

Visconti’s direction isn’t the showiest here as he prefers to let his actors do the talking.  As a comedy, Bellissima mostly works because of Magnani’s constant barrage of insults, complaints, sarcastic remarks, and sometimes, even self-loathing. 

However, Visconti makes sure that the heart of the story—a mother’s unconditional love for her daughter in spite of everything—remains true and intact till the end, elevating a slightly conventional narrative through earned emotions.    

Grade: B+


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