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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Magnani Mesmerizes As The Ultimate Stage Mother: Two Visconti Classics Arrive On DVDMarch 7 2012
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The post-World War II films that emerged from Italy from the mid-forties to the early fifties represent, to me, one of the strongest and most vital periods of filmmaking ever. Some truly great directors worked within the Italian neorealism film movement, and the gritty and truthful movies they made really captured a country in moral and economic transition. These films were grounded in real characters (often portrayed by non-actors) struggling with relatable problems of every day existence with recurrent themes of poverty and desperation. And yet, they were also filled with such life, passion, and simplicity. Relying on concise storytelling and genuine human emotion, these films just feel inherently real even so many decades later. One of the masters of the period, Luchino Visconti, has two classics being dropped onto the DVD market on the same day: a re-release of 1948's "La Terra Trema" (long out of print) and 1951's "Bellissima" (incredibly getting its North American DVD debut). Of course, anyone with an interest in international cinema should have a particular interest in these titles.
La Terra Trema (4 stars): Of the two films, this might be the purest example of neorealism. The entire film takes place on location in an Italian coastal village. The cast is made up of non-professional actors who really seem to be at one with the material. The lengthy film (2 hours and 40 minutes) charts the disintegration of a typical Sicilian fishing clan. When the family gets tired of being taken advantage of by local wholesalers, they embark on a brave plan to work for themselves and take their product direct to market with no middleman. But their effort to better their existence is met with contempt by the town and when they fall into hardship, their troubles are met with indifference and pettiness. This is no fairy tale, but a bitterly unpleasant look at a family ostracized by their ambition (which is nothing more than to make a reasonable living). How unforgivable! The film doesn't shy away from despair and has both a quiet power and a surprising dignity that gets under your skin.
Bellissima: (4 1/2 stars): It's unfathomable to me that a Visconti film starring the incredible Anna Magnani (Oscar winner for The Rose Tattoo) hasn't been available on DVD in the U.S. market by now! Bellissima also tells the story of a family, but this one resides in the city. Magnani plays a put-upon housewife, nurse, and starstruck dreamer who sees an open audition for child actresses as the big break she needs to achieve wealth and status. She secretly takes her daughter to a huge casting call, meets some questionable representation, and proceeds to risk everything their family has for a potential shot at movie making glory. It's almost painful to see the choices that Magnani makes, but she is so driven. At any moment, it seems that disaster and disillusionment will be looming--and the entire experience is quite unsettling. Magnani, as an actress, is (as always) a force to be reckoned with. Without a pause, this performance is almost like a non-stop monologue as she is front and center (and vocal) for just about every scene. It's powerful stuff, and there's no one else like Magnani. If you like her, this is a can't miss proposition.
The two Visconti films certainly stand the test of time. One is driven by unknowns, one is driven by star wattage. But together, they showcase two different types of people who share similar dreams of economic independence. Let's hope these releases by a pretty high profile company (Entertainment One) represent a willingness to bring more previously unavailable international classics to a modern audience. KGHarris, 3/12.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Magnani's Performance Highlights This FilmSept. 16 2012
Stephen C. Bird
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Although I am a bonafide fan of neither Luchino Visconti nor neorealism (I prefer surrealism) -- I found this to be one of Visconti's better films (along with "Rocco e i Suoi Fratelli" & "The Damned"). Frankly I watched this picture for Anna Magnani -- Who, as other Amazon reviewers of this product have noted -- Is a tour-de-force here in the role of Maddalena, a hyper-driven stage mother. La Magnani is better in her Italian films than she is in her American ones (IE "The Rose Tattoo", "Orpheus Descending") -- As her charisma finds its ultimate channel via her native language. Although I also enjoyed Magnani in Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Mamma Roma" -- "Bellissima" features the best work of Magnani that I have seen thus far.
My only major criticism of this picture is that certain scenes move quite slowly -- Perhaps in an effort by Visconti to illuminate the characters and to flesh out the context. But this meandering seems unnecessary and / or tedious -- Especially given the straightforward, simple and linear nature of the story. On the other hand -- The film's sometime slowness is most likely a stylistic component of the "realism" (or neorealism).
In closing -- "Bellissima" works well as a cautionary tale concerning: (1) the perils and pitfalls of show business -- With its inherent hustling, cruelty and dishonesty; (2 the negative consequences of an obsession (in this case, Maddalena's) with the fantasy world of cinema; and (3) the danger inherent in the potential exploitation of child actors. All of this being said -- In the end Maddalena sees through the falsity of it all and cuts her losses -- Hopefully having learned a lesson in the process.
Stephen C. Bird, Author of "Catastrophically Consequential"
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Buautiful Film Fantastic ActingMay 9 2011
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Anna Magnani is my favorite actress of all time. She could act more with just her facial expressions than most other actors could combining verbal with body expression. The story is a simple one, a willful stage mother trying to get her young daughter into the movies via a star search contest at Rome's Cinecitta studios. The time is post war Italy, economic recovery is slow and money is scarce. Her husband Spartaaco regards this quest for stardom to be a waste of time but Maddalena pursues it vigorously eventually spending all their savings. There is a pivotal scene where Maddalena is watching her daughters screen test. Here is where Magnani's abiltiy use expression so effectively is most pronounced. Her facial expressions go from happy to confused to angry to resignation as to what is actually going on in the screening. The scene is also a pivitol one to the plot which changes Maddelena so drastically. I have always been a fan of Italian neo-realist cinema being of Italian descent myself and this film is one of the best. Unfortunately it has not been released in the United States but I have an all regions DVD player. Overall one of Magnami's best efforts and I am so glad to finally be able to experience it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Another sensational Magnani performance!Aug. 31 2012
The CinemaScope Cat
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A fierce and determined stage struck mother (Anna Magnani) enters her daughter (Tina Apicella) in a studio contest looking for a little girl to star in their next movie, even if it means destroying her marriage. While not a comedy as such, there are some devastating dramatic moments, one doesn't normally associate Luchino Visconti with wit and humor. This is perhaps his most sentimental (in a good way) film. Visconti turns an agile eye on the lure of the movies and how it grips those who want to be a part of it. When Magnani watches an outdoor screening of Hawks' RED RIVER, we can see how she's transformed by cinema and all its promises. Magnani is, of course, the driving force of the film (Bette Davis called her performance brilliant). She's spectacular and perhaps no other actress defines force of nature more than Magnani. With Walter Chiari, Gastone Renzelli, Tecla Scarano and the director Alessandro Blasetti playing himself.
The e-one DVD is a crisp B&W transfer in the appropriate 1.33 aspect ratio. In Italian with English subtitles.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
truth - complexJan. 26 2013
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This is my favorite film of Visconti, just as Mamma Roma (to my taste) is the best Pasolini's movie.
And this is not because of Magnani, even though her performance in both films is superb, as it always is.
The reason I liked Bellissima so much is that it's that exact combination of realism and art which produces the highest possible outcome of human creativity, the truth. In a sense this is what Shakespeare did, because he was a realist even in The Tempest and Midsummer Night's Dream, not even mentioning his Henry IV or Merry Wives of Windsor.
Bellissima is about a short span in a life of a poor family in post-WWII Italy. The mother (Magnani), trying to survive, takes her small (5 years old) daughter to a movie audition hoping to start her career in the film industry, so that her future would be financially secure (and so would be the future of the family).
We see life of ordinary Italians, shown by Visconti with so much knowledge and compassion that it's difficult not to identify with everyone in this movie. We're seeing lots of life's minor details, adding up to a sharp, crisp picture, much bigger than simple sum of those details.
Magnani plays her favorite persona, hysterical - and loving, strong-willed - and vulnerable.
Visconti's cinematography is superb, each scene is so believable because of his ability to add small details everywhere, making it absolutely real. Film is not dated even though it's 50 years old. Some movies become dated after just a few years, but not those in the class of Bellissima, Mamma Roma, People on Sunday.