"Divine" of the Italian comedy, la dolce Vitti made spontaneity and charm coexist on stage.

Published on 17 Feb 2021
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Monica Vitti in the film 'Tre favole d'amore', 1962 (Credit to Mondadori)
Monica Vitti in the film ‘Tre favole d’amore’, 1962
(Credit to Mondadori)

One of the most famous actresses on the Italian cinema scene, Monica Vitti has supported top-level actors with an uncommon spontaneity.

Very modern for her times, still today we can consider her as an exception: always ironic, careful not to reveal too many details of her private sphere, convinced that her talent cannot emerge without studying in depth and without constantly questioning.

These are the main qualities that have made Monica Vitti a “royal presence in the cinematography of our country“, in the words of the writer Eleonora Marangoni, author of the biography E siccome lei (2020). Protagonist of the recent photographic exhibition La dolce Vitti, during her long career she has received numerous Italian film awards, with a Concha de Plata at the San Sebastián International Festival, a Silver Bear at the Berlinale and a BAFTA nomination. 

Evasion from conformism

Maria Luisa Ceciarelli, aka Monica Vitti, was born in 1931 from a Bolognese mother and a Roman father, and grew up in a bourgeois context, despite her childhood was also marked by war events.

As a child she is often addressed with the nicknames seven dresses or seven petticoats (from which she will take inspiration for the title of her first autobiography) because she tends to cover herself with lots of clothes to hide her slender body, or bad dreams, due to the difficulty in taking sleep.

In addition to the problems of coexistence with her physical appearance, she also has to deal with the rigor of her mother. She would like Monica «to go to a classical high school, to marry a classical husband, to wear a classic suit. Because for the bourgeois, what is not classic is not dignified».

In fact, her artistic verve already emerges during the war, when she entertains her brothers with some puppets. To distract them from the tragedies and difficulties of that dark period.

And then, as a teenager, love at first sight in the heart of Rome: when she leaves school she begins to observe, with growing curiosity, the guys who act in the courtyard of the National Academy of Dramatic Art. «They looked crazy, but happy». She grows in the desire to enter that courtyard and leave outside her problems and weaknesses.

So she decides to do the first audition, although both parents are against it. The result is positive, she is admitted: from that moment she begins her climb.

Monica Vitti poses in front of the camera, 1960 (Credit to Pierluigi Praturlon)
Monica Vitti poses in front of the camera, 1960 (Credit to Pierluigi Praturlon)

A character is not built by trying to disguise himself. The difficulty lies in finding him inside, with his movements, his times and his rhythms, his looks. Feeling if he runs away from something”.

The theatrical career and the choice of the stage name

Her first great teacher is Silvio d’Amico, who had among his students some of the most distinguished Italian actors, artists and writers of the second post-war period, including Andrea Camilleri, Vittorio Gassman, Anna Magnani, Nino Manfredi and Paolo Panelli. D’Amico’s mantra «you have to know how to exploit even your own defects» Monica will always keep it in mind throughout her career. One example above all: her slightly rough voice becomes a distinctive trait, an irresistible strength.

Another point of reference for Vitti, in this formative period, is the teacher Sergio Tofano, who brings out the acting versatility of the young actress through sophisticated sets and fatherly advice.
Among these, in particular, the choice of a stage name, more catchy than the first name. The choice falls on Monica, inspired by the character of a book just read, and Vitti, or the first half of her maternal name.

In ’53, as soon as she graduated, she began gaining experience in the field, preferring Molière and Shakespeare, working not only in Roman theaters but also at the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza and at the Teatro del Convegno in Milan. And then leaving his mark on the stage through the roles played in Sei storie da ridere (1956) and Capricci di Marianna (1959). She is now ready for the debut in the cinema, in the same year, with the film Le dritte.

“When I start acting, everything changes”.

Muse of the cinema

Through the interpretation in the first film she is noticed by Michelangelo Antonioni, who in those years stands out as director and with whom, in a short time, an intense professional and sentimental relationship was born.

Monica becomes his muse, as well as the protagonist of her famous tetralogy: The Adventure (1960), The Night (1961), The Eclipse (1962) and Red Desert (1964). These are films that make her famous internationally, in particular thanks to her starring role alongside the charming Alain Delon.

Monica Vitti e Alain Delon on set of  'The Eclipse', 1962 (Credit to FilmPublicityArchive)
Monica Vitti e Alain Delon on set of ‘The Eclipse’, 1962 (Credit to FilmPublicityArchive)

Even when the relationship with Antonioni ends, shortly after the end of the last shoot, Monica will always be grateful to him and will remain an admirer of his refined cinema.

In the following decades, until her retirement from the scene in the early 2000s, for notoriety she will be compared with actresses of the caliber of Sophia Loren and will play many roles, both comic and dramatic (from The girl with the gun to I know that you know that I know). She is the star of the Italian comedy, she is one of the few women able to stand up to giants such as Alberto Sordi, Ugo Tognazzi, Vittorio Gassman and Nino Manfredi, and she will always remain very attached to the fascinating world of theater. Also in the role of teacher of her beloved National Academy of Dramatic Art.

“I don’t represent anything: I am a representation. Yes, it’s all mixed up. The life, the characters… And you could say «then it’s all false». No! It’s all true. Especially the characters. Of course, because for me to represent is to live more, to add, to idealize, to transfigure. For me where the representation ends the reality ends”.

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