Bellissima is sometimes called an atypical Visconti film in being his most Italian, evoking two distinct, contrasting worlds: the artificial, glimmering one of Cinecittà Studios, and the desperate but genuine one of tenement life. They meet in a mother's unrealistic ambitions for her daughter. Anna Magnani gives a bravurissima performance as a working-class woman who earns pin money as a “nurse,” giving cut-price injections to local hypochondriacs. She enters her daughter in a Cinecittà talent competition, which offers her a chance to fulfill her dreams through her child. Ambition becomes obsession, and obsession becomes tragedy. The film's knowing, often satirical portrait of Italian society is one of its virtues, but as Andrew Sarris writes, “one needs an extraordinary degree of sociological concentration to peer around anything featuring Magnani's emotional thunderbursts. She becomes a loving lioness. . . . She builds up her emotional force very slowly and solidly in a series of scenes in which the many facets of her womanly nature are brilliantly illuminated.”

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