Anna Magnani’s blend of fiery passion, earthy humor, and unvarnished naturalism made her the symbol of postwar Italian cinema. Launched to worldwide superstardom through her indelible turn in Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City, she represented something startlingly new to audiences accustomed to movie-star glamour: here, in all its raw, gritty glory, was life. Equally adept at drama and comedy, she could harness her explosive emotional intensity to move an audience to laughter, tears, or both at once. In an illustrious international career, she gave powerhouse performances for directors like Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Federico Fellini, Sidney Lumet, George Cukor, and Jean Renoir, who said of Magnani that she is “probably the greatest actress I have ever worked with. She is the complete animal—an animal created completely for the stage and screen.”
Organized by Florence Almozini and Dan Sullivan, the Film Society; and by Camilla Cormanni and Paola Ruggiero, Luce Cinecittà. Presented in association with the Ministry of Culture of Italy.
Special thanks to Istituto Luce Cinecittà; Ministry of Culture of Italy; UCLA Film & Television Archive; Academy Film Archive.
With her iconic blend of fiery passion, earthy humor, and unvarnished naturalism, Anna Magnani was the symbol of postwar Italian cinema, an actress whose explosive emotional intensity had the power to move an audience to laughter, tears, or both at once.
Magnani was cast alongside legendary leading man Marcello Mastroianni for the only time in this stirring historical drama. They play a husband and wife caught up in the political upheaval of the Risorgimento era. With a score by Ennio Morricone.
Roberto Rossellini’s twin tribute to Magnani offers a one-two punch of tour-de-force performances from the actress: in the first part adapted from a theatrical monologue by Jean Cocteau, she is a jilted lover hanging desperately on the telephone line; in the second part, a story by Federico Fellini, she is a peasant who may or may not have experienced a miracle.
Sparks fly as Magnani plays opposite another legend of Italian cinema—Giulietta Masina—in this explosive women-in-prison drama. Masina is the naïve young innocent wrongly convicted, Magnani the volatile hardened convict who corrupts her. Each woman gets ample opportunity to shine, but the best moment belongs to the electrifying Magnani. The sight of her shimmying down a cellblock while shouting “rock and roll!” is worth the price of admission alone.
In this rousing, up-with-the-people slice of neorealism, Magnani delivers a powerhouse performance as a slum-dwelling mother of five who leads a band of women in a female-powered political revolution.
Magnani is a fierce femme fatale who ensnares an ex-POW in her crime ring in this shadowy, fatalistic neorealist noir. Director Alberto Lattuada imbues this socially conscious crime saga with a shadowy style and a foreboding fatalism. Memorable set piece: a nightclub robbery played against a drum solo.
Before he went neorealist, Vittorio De Sica brought his compassionate sensibility to this sweetly romantic screwball farce. He plays a harried physician juggling three women, including Magnani’s gold-digging showgirl. De Sica himself called it the actress’s “true first film.”
Released the same year as Magnani’s international breakthrough Rome Open City, this charming neorealist fairy tale—with Magnani as the wife of a truck driver who unwittingly gets mixed up in black-market smuggling—is a bittersweet look at downtrodden people striving for a better tomorrow.
Magnani’s farewell to film was this fitting send-off from Federico Fellini, a sprawling, kaleidoscopic tribute to the city that the actress embodied, full of dazzlingly surreal dream images.
A trio of heavyweight dramatic performances—Marlon Brando smolders, Joanne Woodward simmers, and Magnani boils over—propel this torrid Tennessee Williams psychodrama of lost souls and raging passions.
This comedic charmer is a sparkling example of the stylishly sophisticated entertainment that Italy produced prior to World War II. Magnani—looking less like Mamma Roma and more like an MGM starlet—shines in one of her earliest film appearances as a scheming maid.
Jean Renoir’s exquisite love letter to the magic of the theater—which François Truffaut called “the noblest and most refined film ever made”—stars Magnani as a performer in a commedia dell’arte troupe traveling through 18th-century Peru.
Magnani’s funny side gets perhaps its finest showcase in this freewheeling comedy. She tears her way gloriously through the role of a movie actress stepping out for a New Year’s Eve night on the town, accompanied by a couple of thieves (played by the legendary Totò and Ben Gazzara).
In the first of her earthy everywoman roles, Magnani plays a brash fruit seller who pulls a humble fishmonger (her Rome Open City co-star Aldo Fabrizi) back down to earth when he gets mixed up with a woman way out of his league. The simple premise is lent nice depth by both actors, who nimbly balance humor and heartstring-plucking poignancy.
The marvelous Magnani struts, dances (hilariously), and sings her way through this delightful satire in which she plays a nouveau riche former fruit vendor determined to move on up. The follow-up to Gennaro Righelli’s Down with Misery, this riches-to-rags tale plays like that film in reverse, with political and class tensions never far from the surface.
The film that announced both Italian neorealism and Magnani as major forces in international cinema, Roberto Rossellini’s devastating look at life in Nazi-occupied Rome sent shock waves through the world. More than 70 years after its arrival, Rome Open City retains its devastating power.
In her first Hollywood film, Magnani as a Tennessee Williams heroine yields heavy-duty dramatic fireworks in this seething saga of sexual repression, which won her the Best Actress Oscar.
Magnani dazzles as a washed-up cabaret star performing on the front lines of World War I in one of four tour-de-force historical dramas she made for Italian television in the early 1970s. The actress’s status as the living symbol of her country is concretized in the powerful image of her delivering a tear-stained rendition of the Neapolitan ballad “O surdato ’nnammurato.”
This rollicking World War II comedy is a satirical look at life in Italy under the occupation. Magnani appears as the strong-willed wife of the bumbling mayor of a small town (Anthony Quinn) scrambling to conceal one million bottles of wine from the Nazis.
Playing an aspiring singer in this enchanting bit of wartime-era escapism, Magnani was provided ample opportunity to display the distinctive vocal style that first made her famous as “the Italian Édith Piaf.”
A delirious blend of neorealism and juicy melodrama, this fascinating film—about an ex-prostitute banished to the volcanic island of her youth—was Magnani’s answer to ex-lover Roberto Rossellini’s Stromboli, starring his new girlfriend Ingrid Bergman.
In this full-throttle melodrama, a torrid tale of lust and betrayal plays out against the backdrop of the American Southwest. Magnani earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role as the wife of a Nevada rancher (the equally explosive Anthony Quinn) driven into the arms of another man (Anthony Franciosa).
Magnani is a domineering wife and mother along for the ride as her husband tries, unbeknownst to her, to ditch a stolen car. This poignant slice-of-life road movie moves deftly between compassionate social realism and breezy comedy.
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