Sunday, December 4, 2011

Anna Magnani in The Rose Tattoo

Anna Magnani received her first Best Actress nomination and won her only Oscar for playing Serafina Della Rose, a devastated widow in the Best Picture nominee, The Rose Tattoo. Looking at the list of awards Anna won for this performance, I wonder why she was so convinced that she would lose the Oscar. I guess she must have thought Susan Hayward was the Hollywood darling who had to win. When she was told she won, she threatened to kill the reporter who informed her that she would kill him if it's not true. It was as true as possible and she even went to receive another nomination (and also should have won another Oscar). 

The Rose Tattoo is an excellent piece of work by Daniel Mann, the same man who directed I'll Cry Tomorrow. It's funny that he played the midwife in the birth of the two finest female performances of 1955. Just like I'll Cry Tomorrow, The Rose Tattoo is endlessly intriguing picture with many interesting aspects. I especially loved the first part of the movie with the focus on Magnani's character but I liked the second half much more than I did last time. Sure, Burt Lancaster overacts as hell in his part as the idiotic guy falling for Serafina but he actually had to play an idiot. He wasn't as awful as I remembered. Marisa Pavan also improved on a repeated viewing. 

However, the most important reason why the whole movie works is the wonderful, superbly talented Anna Magnani. I cannot judge Anna objectively because of the very fond memories of her. I've seen lots of her films when I was a child (she's my father's favorite actress) and I learned not to see her but feel her. Who cannot be charmed by her short scene as herself in Fellini's Roma. The way she says "Ciao! Buona notte!" is just incredibly and has such force with those two short sentences that just blows up the screen. She's 300% talent that shines through the screen even in the smallest part. So I ask again: can I judge Anna objectively? No, and honestly, in her case, you don't even have to. 

Serafina is such a fabulous part which fits Anna Magnani like a glove, it's as if Tennesse Williams had written it for her. Wait, he did write Serafina to the wonderful Anna. :) It's funny that Anna is such a significant presence and her own personality always shines through the movie and yet she disappears in the character of Serafina. To such an extent that it's hard to imagine any other actress (including the wonderful Maureen Stapleton who played Serafina on Broadway) taking on this part. Anna made Serafina her own and she's just incredible at showing her emotions. 

Whenever you see Anna Magnani in any movie, you experience something like an earthquake. Anna is neither like Meryl Streep in precision or Deborah Kerr in her subtlety and dignity. I felt she did what she felt was right and it always work. She was born to become an actress and her instincts came from a magical place, a place that's perfect. I can only repeat myself: what a force on the screen! She's incredible at showing the true love and afterwards the real desperation of Serafina. Just watch the scene when she gots the news of the death of her husband. The way she slowly touches her neck is just just gutwrenching. With this one movement shows so much and its truly a wonderful moment.

After her husband's death, Serafina goes into despair and she falls apart. Anna is wonderfully worn out in these scenes. She communicates Serafina's lack of interest in living without her husband. I guess it's a great thing that we never actually see her husband in full because that we he becomes more of a myth and a god just like Serafina always talks about him. That man brought all the happiness to her and Anna is so fantastic at showing Serafina's more tender side when she's about to reveal the news of her pregnancy to her sleeping husband who honestly doesn't listen to her. Like Serafina describes it to the priest in a wonderful monologue, she gave her "baron" husband glory despite being only a peasant girl. I think there's a not-so-strange parallel between Anna and Serafina. Anna herself had a very stormy relationship with Roberto Rossellini which ended after he impregnated Ingrid Bergman. Anna thought of Rossellini as an idol and started to write hundreds of letters to "the northern woman". Anna brilliantly used her own inner demons and pain to create this character and the result was something unbelievably intense. Intensity describes Anna's whole acting style that's rarely been better represented than in The Rose Tattoo (I think only Rome Open City and Mamma Roma, her two best performances did that).

The highlight of her work here is undoubtedly the scene in the church where she talks about her marriage and  begs the priest to reveal to her what her husband confessed (I especially loved the former). The range of emotions she displays there is just unbelievable. It goes from pure love through bitterness to complete despair. She covers her head and she looks like a ghost who came back to haunt you - and I suppose that scene will haunt anyone who sees it for a long time. Its impact is indescribably strong, which only Anna can do, I think. And I figured that with any other actress, that scene would have been awfully over-the-top and theatrical.

Most people think that from there, her whole performance goes downhill. Although I admit that it doesn't reach the impact of that one scene, I felt it was just as intense as the beginning. It's also incredible - but in a different way. The tone of her work becomes lighter and much more entertaining. I guess it represents how Burt Lancaster's character has changed Serafina and made her feel great again. However, after a while, she returns to the original Serafina who's loud and incredibly devastated. The scene where she sees the rose tattoo once again is just marvelous: it evokes the best parts of the whole film and it really is a fantastic moment. Just like the one where sher confronts her late husband's lover at the blackjack table (=slaps her, I guess she must have thought of Ingrid).

The scenes with Marisa Pavan are, in my opinion, a bit useless for the main storyline but that doesn't prevent Anna from giving her best there, too. She uses them to emphasise Serafina's changes even more, plus they are incredibly entertaining, especially the one where she talks about her daughter's and her boyfriend's "innocence".

Anna Magnani is all around brilliant as Serafina Delle Rose. She gives the essence of her own very unique acting style and she plays Serafina to perfection. The intensity of her work is just amazing and you can't take your eyes off her. Her scene in the church alone deserved an Oscar, not to mention her whole work. She's highly emotional, over-the-top and theatrical and yet it all feels brilliant because of her extraordinary talent. Magnificent, unforgettable performance.

What do you think?

Note: The Final Conclusion comes on Monday or maybe Tuesday. 


Anonymous said...

Just because you asked for it! :) I think this is a terrific performance and I definitely agree with you, she completely deserved to win! One of the best Williams' leading ladies!

dinasztie said...

Thank you! I totally agree with you. She's one of her best leading ladies. The best after Vivien, I think.

Anonymous said...

Tenessee williams was a man
so they are his leading ladies