Monica Vitti: dynamic queen of Italian cinema
Monica Vitti was an Italian actress who rose to prominence in the 1960s in a series of memorable films by director Michelangelo Antonioni and became a star of the commedia all’italiana kind.
Vitti, who died at the age of 90, was known in her home country as the “queen of Italian cinema”, admired equally for her chilling demeanor in her early films and her embrace of comedic roles in her later ones.
She was born Maria Luisa Ceciarelli in Rome in 1931 to Adele Vittilia and Angelo Ceciarelli. One of three children, she would later recall: “I had very strict parents. My two brothers were power and freedom. I was helpless and isolated.
She made her stage debut at the age of 14, finding the freedom she lacked in the family compound. Four years later, his parents emigrated to America, but Vitti decided to stay, studying at the National Academy of Dramatic Art in Rome and graduating in 1953. Vitti adopted his stage name, combining the first name of a character in a book she was reading with part of her mother’s maiden name.
Antonioni was already well established as a director when he and Vitti collaborated on The Adventure (1960), a drama in which she plays the best friend of a missing young woman. The director overturned existing conventions, eschewing traditional narratives in favor of mood and composition.
Reactions to the film have been mixed, with boos and jeers accompanying its debut at the Cannes International Film Festival. Countering the negativity, Roberto Rossellini and other directors released a statement saying: “Aware of the exceptional importance of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film The Adventure and appalled at the expressions of hostility it has elicited, the undersigned critics and members of the profession wish to express their admiration for the director of this film.
Vitti’s outstanding performance and the controversy surrounding the film secured him growing recognition from moviegoers. She then starred in the following episodes of the trilogy, The Note (The Night, 1961) and The Splint (The Eclipse, 1962). Highlighting the contrast between the mood of these productions and Vitti’s off-screen self, Antonioni once observed “…the roles I give him are far removed from his own character. Monica is the joy of living.
While others may have opted for Hollywood at this point, the rise of commedia all’italiana in the mid-60s gave Vitti the chance to work with director Mario Monicelli in much lighter material. For example, The ragazza with the pistola (The Girl with the Gun, 1968), an unlikely honor killing-themed comedy, was nominated for an Oscar and won the Vitti a David di Donatello Award for Best Actress for its title role.
Vitti later commented, “I realized I had a knack for comedy when I recited tragic roles in a way that made my Academy friends laugh. I only realized later what an extraordinary gift it was.
His first film in English was Modesty Blaise (1966), a cult spy comedy parody, where she starred alongside Terence Stamp and Dirk Bogarde. A second English-language outing, in the romantic comedy An almost perfect deal (1979), brought favorable reviews from critics, including David Ansen of Newsweekwho noted, “The revelation of the film is that Vitti, deep-throated and glamorous, is a marvelous actress – a chic Magnani bubbling with earthy, sultry mischief and contagious good humor.”
She then collaborated with Luis Buñuel in The Phantom of Liberty (The Phantom of Liberty, 1974), featuring the character of Madame Foucauld in a surreal and satirical portrayal of middle-class hypocrisy.
In 1995, the Venice Film Festival awarded him a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. Vitti had recently lived in Rome with her husband, Roberto Russo, whom she married in 2000 and who survives her. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and died of complications from the disease.
Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini paid tribute saying: “Farewell to Monica Vitti, farewell to the queen of Italian cinema. Today is a really sad day, a great artist and a great Italian have passed away.
Monica Vitti, actress, born November 3, 1931, died February 2, 2022