Bellissima and Senso

This seemingly atypical Visconti film is a satire on urban life and a mother's unrealistic ambitions for her daughter. Anna Magnani gives a bravura performance as a simple working-class woman who earns pin money as a “nurse,” giving cut-price injections to local hypochondriacs. She enters her daughter in a Cinecitta talent competition which seems to offer her a chance to fulfill all her dreams through her child. Ambition becomes obsession... and obsession becomes tragedy as the mother is conned and the daugher exploited. In his book on Visconti, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith notes: “....Bellissima... is a film which... confounds a number of stereotypes that have been built up around Visconti's work and artistic personality. It is, in a vulgar sense, the most obviously ‘Italian' of his films, with extremely rapid dialogues which are difficult to translate... without totally losing the flavor of the original. But it is the most subtle and elusive of all, the element of self-criticism and irony at the expense of its own ‘Italian' quality, which has most effectively prevented it from being assimilated and appreciated by foreign audiences. For at its highest level it is a denial of all stereotypes, about Visconti, about Italian films in general, about neo-realism, and even about that sacred monster, Anna Magnani, who is the star of the film.” Bellissima opened in New York in 1953... and has not been in distribution in this country for at least 20 years.

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