Remembering the best performances of the icon of Italian cinema
When Monica Vitti who passed away in January, the movie world has lost a beloved icon. Vitti was a crucial figure in Italian cinema, having starred in numerous films spanning a wide range of styles and genres. Although best known to contemporary cinephiles for her many starring roles in the films of Michelangelo Antonioniits presence in the cinema of the 60s and 70s is full of unsuspected treasures.
Along with actors like Sophie Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, she gave a face to Italian cinema. Few stars could capture a scene as effectively as Vitti. Regardless of a film’s tone – or even its quality – she was able to grab attention and make for interesting viewing. What makes her an even more impressive performer is her ability to master both drama and comedy with the same level of precision.
While all Vitti is good Vitti, there are definitely some that stand out above the rest, so we’ve compiled a list of seven movies to remember the late actress. From crushing social alienation to cheerful Italian comedies, there’s sure to be something to please everyone, so without further ado, check them out below.
The Adventure (1960)
Vitti began his collaborations with Antonioni with the adventure, a star image that quickly catapulted the actress to international success. The film follows the disappearance of a young woman (Lea Massari) as her lover (Gabriel Ferzetti) and her best friend Claudia (Vitti) search for her through a desolate Italian landscape. It’s a detective film like no other, where the search for the missing becomes something else entirely. Instead, the search turns inward as the characters attempt to make sense of the lives they’ve built.
Antonioni’s vision shows empty but beautiful architecture and dark seascapes to evoke feelings of alienation and emotional despair. It’s a perfect backdrop for one of Vitti’s most emotionally desperate performances ever on film, with Claudia exuding utter bewilderment at her own inescapable emptiness. It’s all haunting but too fantastical to look away.
The Note (1961)
In The Note, Antonioni’s second film in a thematic trilogy, Vitti is given a supporting role as Valentina Gherardini, the spoiled but lively daughter of a posh aristocrat. husband John (Marcello Mastroianni) and Lydia (Jeanne Moreau) take their already troubled marriage even further when Giovanni meets Valentina at one of his father’s lavish parties. Antonioni once again sticks to his signature, creating deeply expressive visuals that trump conventional narrative.
The Note perfectly captures the heartache of a fractured marriage while examining the emptiness of a purposeless bourgeois way of life. It’s a deeply dark film in which the characters never seem to find happiness, instead finding acceptance in their own misery. Despite providing the triple threat of three of European cinema’s greatest actors, Vitti manages to make the most of his relatively infrequent screen time by leaving a lasting impression on both Giovanni and audiences. She exists as a beacon of hope, an inspiring soul who can create a captivating game out of nothing and turn a lifeless party into something exceptional.
The Splint (1962)
Vitti finds Antonioni once again with The Splint, the last film in his thematic trilogy of social malaise. After abruptly ending her current relationship, Vittoria (Vitti) begins an affair with a passionate stockbroker (Alain Delon) as the two attempt to make sense of their place in the complicated world around them. As usual, there’s plenty to chew on, with heady philosophical themes getting preferential treatment over traditional storytelling.
As Vittoria navigates the Roman landscape, Vitti once again portrays a complicated and conflicted victim of the modern era. While she and Delon undeniably have a sort of romantic chemistry all their own, the movie veers away from being concerned with whether or not they stay together. This is not the subject. They continue to flirt, to express their desire, but above all have trouble communicating. Their passion culminates in an exquisitely expressive glass kissing scene that can only be done justice by viewing. Finally, with the drama over, the film ends with the titular eclipse, a terrifying final sequence meant to serve as a metaphorical apocalypse. It’s an example of what cinema can really be and a fantastic success in pushing the medium into previously uncharted territory.
Red Desert (1964)
red desert, Antonioni’s transition to color cinematography, is one of the director’s finest works and continues his investigation of the long-term costs of social alienation. Giulietta (Vitti) is married to an industrial worker (Carlo Chionetti) and is haunted by the environment in which she lives. She finds herself on the brink of mental collapse, surrounded by towering industrial landscapes and electric skylines. Only when she meets Corrado (Richard Harris), her husband’s partner, that she is able to begin to express her anxieties.
While several of the director’s previous films featured Vitti in leading or supporting roles, red desert is undoubtedly the film that pays the most attention to the actress. He is his film, and she was given the opportunity to paint a devastating portrait of modern day anxiety. Antonioni and Vitti do wonders for expressing the adverse social consequences of industrialization in a rapidly modernizing society. The world depicted is totally unnatural, with chimneys and electricity pylons appearing as menacing and inescapable figures. With a deeply moving atmosphere, vibrant, hand-painted sets, and a glitchy electronic score of Vittorio Gelmetti, red desert is a psychological drama like no other and is sure to leave an impression long after the credits roll.
The Pizza Triangle (1970)
Released in Italy as A Jealousy Drama (with full details), The pizza triangle reunited Vitti with Marcello Mastroianni for a wacky Italian comedy about the pitfalls of romantic jealousy. When married worker Orestes (Mastroianni) meets charming bridesmaid Adelaide (Vitti), the two begin a passionate romance, that is, until communist-sympathetic pizza maker Nello (Giancarlo Giannini) seduces Adelaide by sending her a heart-shaped pie.
With its non-chronological and often contradictory narrative, The pizza triangle is distinguished from many other films of the same ilk by a free-spirited style. The characters are exuberant, even absurd, and the roles allow the actors to lose themselves in their performances. Vitti is fantastic as a woman caught between two loves, the actress masterfully striding the line between comedic excellence and genuine dramatic heartbreak.
The Girl with the Gun (1968)
One of Vitti’s fiercest roles comes in comedy The girl with the gun. Dealing with heavy themes of bride kidnapping and honor killing, the film follows Assunta (Vitti) as she travels to England in pursuit of her runaway lover (Carlo Giuffre) after refusing to marry her. It’s a feat to make such a light and airy image of its heavy subject matter, but the film succeeds on this front, thanks in large part to an endearing, vulnerable and fierce performance from Vitti.
There’s a huge amount of charm to seeing Assunta, a fish out of water in England, trying to navigate her way through uncharted territory and encountering a number of unusual characters along the way. While the movie isn’t without its flaws, there’s a lot to enjoy here. There’s the composer’s infectious psych-rock theme song Peppino De Luca, a grassroots feminist message, and one fabulous Vitti hairstyle after another. It’s worth watching for fans of the actress, and it’s definitely one of her most laid-back photos.
Modesty Blaise (1996)
In his first English film, Vitti shines as the titular Modesty Blaise, a retired jewel thief recruited by the British secret service to protect a valuable shipment of diamonds. There’s pretty much something for everyone: musical numbers, sight gags, romance, suspense, fourth-wall breaks, and enough campy flair to secure the film’s position as a cult classic. It’s basically a james bond parody with pop-art sensibilities and a weird sense of humor.
Even though Vitti has had his share of comedic roles before Modesty Blaise, it’s one of his most delicious antics in the genre. A good chunk of screen time is spent on evil mastermind Gabriel (Dirk Bogard) and Modesty Will’s romantic sidekick (Terence stamp), but it is undeniably Vitti’s film. Every time she appears, she steals the stage with a casual charm that couldn’t be more natural. It’s a wonderful portrayal of an iconic film at its most easy-going, and an oddly endearing homage to spy movies, comic books, and Vitti herself.
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