Anna Magnani was just a handful of films into her long, storied, abundantly successful career when she delivered what would ultimately prove to be one of her most magnificent and unforgettable performances in Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City—a performance which would also prove to be among the most indelible in all of Italian cinema.
In this 1945 work, a true touchstone among neorealist titles, Magnani plays the role of Pina, a mother, daughter, wife-to-be and tragedy-in-wait whose epic cry of horror at the film’s climax leads to such a shocking, heartbreaking moment—manifest in the form of a reverse-Pietà, no less—that it would come to serve almost immediately as a metaphor for neorealist expression in general. What’s more, those aggrieved shouts would echo throughout scores upon scores of Italian dramas thereafter, and her role in that canonical film by Rossellini would, a couple decades later, provide Pier Paolo Pasolini with a perfectly momentous metaphorical figure to appropriate and meaningfully invert—spiritually, politically, historically, cinematographically—in one of his most acclaimed films, Mamma Roma, itself a touchstone among films pertaining to the twilight of neorealism and its failed ideals.
Seeing one film then the other is a perfect way to get a feel for not just the range of Magnani’s talent, but also for her quickly established on-screen importance. It’s also a great way to never, ever be able to un-hear the names Francesco and Ettore. Fortunately, both films are among the many major titles—24 in total—in Film Society’s series La Magnani, a fittingly varied, multi-genre homage to this insuperable actress who had the opportunity to work with almost every major Italian director of her era. Or rather, they had the opportunity to work with her.
Full schedule of La Magnani screenings available here. Images courtesy The Film Society of Lincoln Center.