Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Monica Vitti - art-house comedienne

It is rumoured that Monica has Alzheimers now, and has not been seen for some time - but back in the '60s she had that unique face, voice and manner, that certainly registered with me. She was the latest in that line of great Italian actresses with stunning looks.

The Antonioni films of course have been endlessly written about and analysed since the 60s, so I am only mentioning them in relation to Vitti's roles. L’AVVENTURA set the pace in 1960 and was of course the sensation of the Cannes Film Festival and together with Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA and Visconti’s ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS ushered in the new age of Italian and then international cinema. One could almost say modern cinema began in 1960 with both Hitchcock and Antonioni making films about a woman who vanishes and the people looking for her. We find out what happens to her in the Hitchcock, but we don’t in Antonioni’s vision of the indolent rich at play as they sail around Southern Italy ending at that bleak dawn (often where Antonioni films end, as in LA NOTTE and BLOWUP) at the hotel in Taormina where her Claudia accepts the limitations of love.

LA NOTTE in 1961 is really Mastroianni and Moreau’s film as the married couple visiting a dying friend in Milan and whose marriage is failing, with another less-optimistic dawn reconciliation after an all night party. Vitti is featured as Valentina, the daughter of the host of the party, who flirts with Mastroianni, but realises it is not going anywhere as they surrender to the boredom of modern life.

L’ECLISSE in 1962, seen as the final part of this trilogy, sees Vitti at her peak as Vittoria and the film is all about her and her reactions to the people and events around her. Her solitude, ending with one lover, the Rome financial markets as her mother gambles on the stock exchange, how she follows a man who has lost huge amounts, her pleasure in the air flight among the clouds, and getting involved with the brash young stockbroker, Alain Delon, who has no problems at all, apart from the drunk driving his car into the river. Individual sequences like where she and neighbours play at being in Africa and that well-known final sequence as the camera turns up at the lovers’ meeting place but they do not as life goes on and we study inanimate things like street lights, are endlessly fascinating. There is a sense of dread, as this is the early 60s and the nuclear age. There is so much in these films that one can’t really gloss over them, but Monica is marvellous here and is really the epitome of early 60s chic. It’s a timeless look and the film is an enduring classic. As ever Antonioni’s use of space and landscape and how characters move and fit in it repays several viewings. Sound plays an important part too – the wind rattling the railings here is as evocative as the wind sighing among the leaves of the park in BLOW-UP.

A 1963 film CHATEAU EN SUEDE surfaced only here in the UK on BBC television but it was an interesting oddity by Roger Vadim with Vitti leading an interesting cast which also included young pop singer Francoise Hardy in this Francoise Sagan story set in – yes – a castle in Sweden.

After several more movies came her fourth Antonioni – IL DESERTO ROSSO, or THE RED DESERT, and it’s a pleasure to see it newly released on dvd. Vitti looks wonderful here with red hair as she grapples with a very bored Richard Harris (who did not get on with Antonioni at all and in fact he walked off the picture). Vitti is Guiliana who may be driven to a breakdown by the industrial nightmare of Ravenna with its factories spouting pollution and her indifferent husband, hence her fling with Harris, all loving photographed in Antonioni’s first color feature, with locations and objects painted (as they would in BLOW-UP) to reflect the heroine’s mood: the red room, and grey fruit on a market stall.

She was of course the art-house goddess of those Antonioni films which we all flocked to then, and are still relevant and endlessly discussed today. But Monica wanted to be a comedienne. She brought a lot of fun to Losey's MODESTY BLAISE which is a very misunderstood film, but in Italian comedies like her sketches in LE BAMBOLE, LE FATE or THE SCARLET LADY she is very funny and deadpan. It is lovely now seeing her being glamorous and funny wearing fabulous clothes in those Italian comedies, but a lot of them did not get international release. One that did was the very funny PIZZA TRIANGLE with her and Mastroanni and Giannini. It was nice seeing her contributing to that BBC series 'Hollywood England' a dozen or so years ago which disucssed all those key British films of the '60s, where she, Bogarde, Stamp and others discussed MODESTY BLAISE and others. Cannes Film Festival poster for 2009 was a nice tribute to her and L'AVVENTURA...

My full IMDb appreciation on Monica is at:


  1. monica was very funny ,beautiful and the best italian actress

  2. Viva Monica! Con amore! Emanuele