Bellissima (1952)

 

 

 

Director:     .

Starring:    Anna Magnani (Maddalena Cecconi), Walter Chiari (Alberto Annovazzi), Tina Apicella (Maria Cecconi), Gastone Renzelli (Spartaco Cecconi), Tecla Scarano (Tilde Spernanzoni), Lola Braccini (Photographer's Wife), Arturo Bragaglia (Photographer), Nora Ricci (Laundry Worker), Vittorina Benvenuti, Linda Sini (Mimmetta), Teresa Battaggi (Snob Mother), Gisella Monaldi (Door-keeper).

a poor woman gambles her family on a chance to get her daughter into the movies

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

A conductor leads the orchestra as the chorus sings.  This is a radio broadcast of music.  The announcer says that Stella Film is running a contest.  They are looking for a pretty Italian girl of from 6 to 8 years old.  The contest will be in Cinecitta, Via Tusc9olana, Km 9. 

There is a huge crowd of people at the contest site.  A man with a megaphone tells the people that only girls of 6 to 8 can enter.  They will be seen by the director, Blasetti.  As the crowd files into the auditorium, one of the mothers, Maddalena Cecconi, cannot find her daughter, Maria.  Mother tells the crew and they call out for Maria.  Maddalena goes to look for her child. 

The auditorium is now packed with mothers, fathers and children.  The name of the contest is:  "The Most Beautiful Little Girl in Rome".   The auditions begin.  The little girls are asked to sing a song. 

Mother Cecconi finally finds her little girl over by a wading pool.  She scolds Maria and gives her a light slap.  The girl really starts bawling her head off.  A crew member comes by and hears the crying.  He comes over and asks the mother what did the little girl do that was so bad?  Mother says that the little girl got lost and now they are missing the auditions.  Maddalena complains that her daughter got her face and dress dirty.  The crew member says that the girl is very cute and that mother should leave her a little messy.  That only makes the little girl look even cuter.  The man says he will escort the two females over to the auditorium and get them inside.  Maddalena shows the man some photos of her daughter to see if this would help Maria's chances, but the man says she would need professional shots of her daughter to really help her chances.  He says his name is Alberto Annovazzi and he will give her the name of a good, professional photographer. 

Mother and daughter move straight up and onto the stage, which displeases some of the mothers.  Then Maddalena gets her child seen next because Maria was the lost girl they were all looking for.  Maria recites a poem about Venice.  She does a good job of the recitation.

The father, Spartaco Cecconi, is eating lunch with friends at an outdoor restaurant.  He was supposed to go to a game with his friends, but he tells one of his friends, Franco, that he doesn't feel like going now.  He is worried because his wife and daughter have not returned.  Maddalena told him she was going to Monteverde.  Franco says that the problem is that Maddalena doesn't obey her husband. 

The men leave the restaurant and they see Maddalena coming toward them.  She tells her husband that they picked Maria. None of the men believe a word she is saying.  Franco says Maddalena just does what she wants to do anyway.  The men now go off to the game. 

Now Maria is looking for her mother.  A neighbor says mother went down to Margherita's for the injection.  The woman shouts across the courtyard for Maddalena.  Maddalena hears the call and comes out on the balcony to ask Maria what does she want?  Maria says there's a lady who wants a coffee.  Mother tells her she will be right down after she finishes giving the injection. 

On her way down the stairs, Maddalena tells the other mothers that Maria has been picked in the auditions.  One woman says to herself about Maddalena:  "Madwoman." 

The woman wanting the coffee tells Maddalena that she's the actress Tilde Spernanzoni.  She is retired, but will help the child.  This irritates Maddalena who doesn't know who sent this actress to her.  She tells the actress that the child doesn't need any acting lessons because they want her natural, just the way she is.  And, anyway, they can't afford acting lessons.  Tilde says that parents have to sacrifice all for their children. So Maddalena lets the woman talk with Maria for awhile.  Alone she starts talking to herself, complaining about this situation.  She is really mad about the interruption because the woman drank down three of her raw eggs and she is going to make them late for an appointment with the professional photographer. 

After the actress leaves, mother gets ready to go to the photographer.  She tells her daughter to listen only to her and not to some stranger.

The photographer takes two photos of Maria.  Maddalena is so hyper that she makes her daughter cry again.  And she interferes with the photographer and he gets a bit upset about this.  She appears to be a non-stop talker, even when she's all alone. 

Maddalena is giving another injection.  The client asks if it's more penicillin?  No.  It's Balerofosforo again.  Maddalena gives the woman her injection and the woman complains that it hurt.  Maddalena insists that she has a very light touch. 

At the dress maker, Maddalena wants to get a ballerina outfit for her daughter.  She tells the dressmaker that she is a nurse and gives injections. 

And now mother and daughter are at ballet class.  Maria is so small compared to the other girls.  She is just a beginner and can't dance with the rest of the class who are more experienced dancers.  Instead, Maria is still being trained at the bar.  Maddalena is so full of nervous energy and wonders why the teacher doesn't put Maria with the rest of the class.  She goes up to the teacher and tells her that Maria has been at the bar for three hours now.  Please put her with the rest of the class.  The teacher is a bit miffed, saying:  "These girls have been doing ballet for two, three years."  Maddelena says they can't wait for another three years.  The two just keep on arguing with each other.  The fighting causes the little girl to cry again.  And mother has the nerve to ask the teacher:  "Did you really need to make her cry?  How rude."

When mother and daughter return home the husband complains that now they go out even after supper.  She says she was just out giving people their injections.  Her husband tells her their rent went up from 60,000 lire to 65,000 lire.  Mother checks the bank account and finds they only have 60,000 lire left.  She asks herself what are they going to do? 

Mother and daughter return for more auditions, but one of the mothers says that yesterday they held some special auditions and the fat man picked the girl that was not the prettiest, but the mother that was prettiest.  The women get angry about this and say they should do something about it.

Mother and daughter go to get a trim for the daughter's hair.  Alberto Annovazzi comes over and invites the mother out.  So mother decides to leave Maria with the barber and go out with Alberto.  The little girl says she doesn't want to stay here.  After mother leaves the little girl keeps yelling for her mother.  Then the woman being worked on objects to the barber switching to the little girl when he is not finished with her.  So the barber calls his young boy over so the little girl can get a trim from him.  All the boy does is cut off a good part of her pig tails. 

We find out that it was actually mother who asked to speak with Alberto.  She is probably thinking she can use her looks to influence Alberto into pushing the others to select Maria for the movie.  They take a walk in the park.  She asks Alberto if he really thinks her daughter has a good chance to be picked?  She says she has been spending a lot of money on her daughter and she would hate to see someone else win who has been recommended.  Alberto says they don't put much emphasis on recommendations because they get so many of them.  But Maddalena still wants a recommendation from Alberto or from someone important that he knows.  But Alberto keeps saying that it all depends on the mother.  He says she should get 50,000 lire to him and he will use it to help smooth the way to Maria getting a contract.  Maddalena thinks about it and then decides to give him the money, the last bit of their money in the bank.

With the 50,000 lire Alberto buys a motor scooter.

Spartaco is trying to throw the acting coach out of his house, but she keeps arguing with him.  Maddalena comes home to this fight and it continues.  Maria comes out and we see that she has short hair and a permanent hairdo.  That has Spartaco upset.  Then the dress maker comes in with the finished dress for Maria and wants to be paid.  And the actress says that Maddalena owes her 1,260 lire.  Spartaco says that his wife has to stop this spending, but he pays the money to the acting coach.  Spartaco loses his temper over all that Maddalena has been doing and what she hasn't been doing, such as keeping the house clean.  He manhandles her asking:  "Am I not in charge anymore?"   She answers back that she is sick of doing too much for him and she wants him out of the apartment.  He says he is going to kill her.  She tells him to go ahead and kill her. 

The dressmaker gets scared and screams for the concierge.  A neighbor comes into the apartment to see what's going on and the female concierge is coming down from upstairs.    Little Maria cries and cries.  The apartment fills up with concerned women.  Spartaco comes out of the bedroom and tells the women that he's taking his daughter and leaving.  Maddalena comes out of the bedroom and tells Spartaco that if he leaves with her daughter, he will never see her again.  Then she turns to the women to make her case with them.  She says all she did was try to make her daughter a somebody!  Is there anything wrong with that?  She tells Spartaco that her daughter:  "She must not depend on anyone or get beaten like me!"  She says she used her own money to buy the things her daughter needed and she had to keep it all a secret from Spartaco. 

Some of the women are big women and they take the daughter from Spartaco who now leaves alone.  As soon as Spartaco leaves, Maddalena stops the yelling and is calm.  She got what she wanted.

The next morning she and her daughter are back at the auditions.  She sees Alberto there and she asks him if he bought the gifts to smooth Maria's way to being picked?  Alberto says yes he did and they are all handed out now.  Just then a young woman comes over to flirt with Alberto.  She may be his girlfriend because she asks him if he got the scooter.  Alberto says yes, and the woman says then they will celebrate the occasion with some champagne.  Maddalena gets impatient with Alberto and calls him to come over to her.  He comes and she asks if she can sneak a peak to watch her daughter perform for those running the auditions.  He says yes. 

Maddalena invites Alberto to lunch with her and her female friends.  One of the women scolds Maddalena for inviting the "chancer" to the luncheon. 

Alberto goes down by the riverside and calls for Maddalena to come down with him.  She says no because she's in heels.  He keeps insisting so she comes down.  He then takes her to a secluded part hidden by reeds.  They sit down by the riverside.  Maddalena now confronts Alberto about the motor scooter that she bought him. She treats it as a joke saying she knew it all along.  She laughs about it.  Alberto tries to convince her to have sex with him, but she gets up and starts leaving. 

The women are anxiously awaiting the return of Maddalena.  The two people are dirty from the sand and dirt and Maddalena carries her shoes in her hands.  The woman that doesn't like Maddalena and vice-versa, passes by Maddalena saying:  "Did you take your shoes off as well?"  This remark makes Maddalena furious and she throws a shoe at the woman.  The shoe breaks a glass pane of the door, frightening the woman who drops the dish she was carrying.  The dish breaks.

Maddalena takes her daughter to go and see the audition reel done by Maria.  She goes into see Iris, but Iris says it's just not possible for Maddalena to see the audition of her daughter because it is waiting to be viewed by the director.  She has to get the film down to the director right now.  Maddalena asks Iris to let her in to view the audition reels.  Iris says that's impossible.  She would lose her job if she let Maddalena into Room 3.  Maddalena suddenly recognizes the young woman's face, but she can't remember where she saw her.  The woman says she saw her in a film.  Maddalena now remembers the film and the face.  She asks if the woman is still acting, but the woman says no.  "They only hired me once or twice as I was the type they needed.  I even got my hopes up and I lost my job and my boyfriend.  All I can say is either you are a professional actor, or give up your dreams and stick to a real job.  I'm sorry to tell you this, since you're full of hopes.  You might be right at hoping for it, but I doubt it, though.  So many people ended up badly, thinking they'd make it in the movie industry."

Maddalena still wants to see the film.  The young woman finally gives up and says she can go with her, but she must remain quiet.  They go into the projection room and watch from there.  In her audition, Maria was too short to blowout the candles.  She gets upset about that, which then affects her poem recitation.  And then she starts to cry.  The men in the screening room just start laughing and laughing at the recitation and at the crying.  Maddelena gets very angry and she asks herself what are they laughing about?  She says she can't take this and pulls away from the viewing portal. 

Alberto acts like a Mr. Know-it-all and says he would have recognized this audition as a waste of film footage from the start and would have known that the girl would be crying.  The director throws Alberto out of the screening room for that smart-alecky remark. 

And now comes Maddalena mad as hell and denouncing the film crew.  She wants to know what's so funny about her little girl?  She says the director is rude with no respect for other people's feelings.  She mentions Alberto and they tell her they already threw him out. Maddalena is escorted out.  With her gone, they run the audition reel again of Maria. 

Mother and daughter leave the film studio.  They wait at the train station for a ride home. 

Walking home, Maddalena cries and cries. 

One of the crew members stops Alberto on his motor scooter and tells him to go bring Maria and her daughter back to the studio.  Alberto says he will only get the girl, if they rehire him.  The crew members say they will hire him to work on this picture. 

They go find Spartaco and they talk with him about signing the contract for his daughter.  When Maddalena gets back all the women are there to congratulate her.  Spartaco goes and greets her and says she was right all along.  The fellow with the contract says that they will pay the girl two million lire.  Mother says:  "I'm really sorry but my daughter is staying here.  I didn't bring her into the world to amuse anyone.  To me and her father, she's beautiful.  She's so beautiful. We're keeping her here."  She cries while she says this.  Then she asks Spartaco to tell the gentlemen that their daughter will never make movies.  "Kick them out, Spartaco." 

Spartaco says he's sorry, but there's nothing to be done here.  So everyone leaves, including the two movie men. Spartaco goes into the bedroom to look as his sleeping daughter and then checks on his wife.  Maddalena tells him to give her the traditional four slaps that he hands out so he will feel better.  But the husband just takes off her shoes and calls her his crazy wife.  They embrace and kiss each other.  

 

Good movie.  The movie is part of the Italian neo-realism that was so popular in the post-WWII era in Italy.  Like many other such films, the family presented in the film is very poor after the war.  They live in a run-down apartment building and just barely keep their heads above water by both mother and father working.  The heroine is in love with films.  In fact they can watch films played outdoors from the garden area.  When she hears that one of the film studios is looking for a girl from age 6 to 8 for their next movie, Maddalena sees this as an opportunity for her daughter to become somebody important who can escape the kind of poverty existence their own family has to suffer through.  She is almost obsessed with getting her child into the movies.  She will almost do anything to get her noticed.  And she is willing to play the none-too-honorable games of the movie people, including giving money to grease the skids.  The heroine is so obsessed that she can't see that she is destroying her own family by investing money that they can't spare to gamble on her daughter winning the contest.  It finally takes a cold, hard slap of reality in the face to awaken the heroine to see what she has done to her, her child and her husband.  She had gambled her whole family on a chance to make her daughter a somebody.  "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

 

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