Almost from the moment she made her breakthrough performance in Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City, Anna Magnani became an icon of Italian cinema. Her ferocious presence and multifaceted talent continued to enliven the work of a wide range of directors, including Jean Renoir, Luchino Visconti, and Pier Paolo Pasolini. This Wednesday, the Film Society of Lincoln Center kicks off the series La Magnani, a comprehensive survey of her glorious career. To coincide with the series, writer Dan Callahan has published a new tribute to Magnani on RogerEbert.com’s Balder & Dash blog, offering a thoughtful examination of her career and just what made her such a vital star.
Magnani’s impact on cinema was instantly felt, Callahan writes. “She had a new sort of power on screen in the mid-1940s, and she made small moments—and small movies—momentous.” And, no matter the role, “The women Magnani was playing became multi-dimensional, abundantly faceted, with vivid behavior unfolding and then unfolding some more before our eyes in all directions possible.” And the vivacious woman behind the characters was equally complicated. “Magnani liked to stay up all night and sleep all day, and she liked dogs because unlike people, she would say, dogs never betrayed you. She was usually jumpy, tired, excitable, and cranky . . .”
And although Magnani’s romantic relationship with Rossellini ended when he began an affair with Ingrid Bergman on the set of Stromboli, Callahan says that it was Rossellini who stayed beside her for forty-five days when Magnani was on her deathbed in 1973. Callahan quotes Rossellini as having once said that “In two hours of Anna there’s everything. Summer, winter, tenderness, fury, jealousy, fighting, break-up, goodbye, tears, repentance, pardon, ecstasy, and then, once again, suspicion, anger, blows.”