Saturday, August 8, 2015

1955: Anna Magnani for The Rose Tattoo

Anna Magnani plays Serafina Delle Rose, a Sicilian immigrant who is convinced that she's married to the greatest man in the world. When he dies, she is devastated for three years. Then one day she hears a rumor that her husband was having an affair, just before she meets a man who has the same rose tattoo on his chest as her husband did.

I know, I thought it sounded kind of intriguing, too. However, this turned out to be one of my least favorite films I've watched for this project so far (I still think it was better than Coquette, though). The pacing was terrible: most scenes took painfully long to get through, but then it would unexpectedly skip a bunch of time. It seemed like some time had passed, and then someone would say, "Earlier today..." and you'd realize that no, it was still part of the same, incredibly long day. None of the characters ever reacted to situations in a logical way, either. They'd all be yelling at each other, and then for no reason they'd calm down and be happy, but pretty soon they'd start yelling again, with seemingly no provocation. The only characters I liked were Serafina's daughter (even though I kind of hated that her name was Rosa Delle Rose) and her sailor boyfriend, but the film didn't focus enough on them except when Serafina was shouting at them. All in all, not a very enjoyable movie to watch, and certainly not one that I would recommend.

It's difficult to evaluate this performance because I don't know how much Anna Magnani is to blame for how bad the movie is. On the one hand, it seems unfair to call this a terrible performance because I'm convinced that not even the greatest actress in the world could have made this a good movie, and a terrible actress probably could have made it much worse than it was. She did a good job of looking and acting completely out of it between her husband's death and meeting the other man. I just had a very hard time believing her character, especially the way she overreacted to everything, and that she apparently didn't even suspect that her husband was having an affair when it was so painfully obvious to everyone else. It would be one thing if she had just been in denial, but she had no clue. I think most of the problems I have are more to do with the way the character was written than the way she was portrayed, but I definitely think she could have been portrayed better. When the script called for an odd reaction, she didn't have to overdo it quite so much. In some ways I like that she really went for it, but it would have been more effective if she had backed off a little bit. I did like some of the banter between her and Burt Lancaster, but then either one or both of them would react in a way that made no sense to me. Maybe the way they acted was consistent with Sicilian culture, which I confess to knowing very little about, but either way I didn't get it.

Anna Magnani was an Italian actress, and this was her first English-speaking role in a Hollywood film. Tennessee Williams had written this play with Magnani in mind, but she turned down the role on Broadway because she didn't speak English very well. She accepted the film role, but still didn't think her English was good enough to win her an Oscar, which is probably why she didn't attend the ceremony. While I obviously didn't love her performance, I think her genuine Italian accent was probably the best part of it. Though I had a lot of trouble understanding why she was so devoted to her husband and why she reacted to situations the way she did, it was easy to believe that she was a recent immigrant. Her accent brought a sense of reality to the character that nothing else did, and I think it might have helped the film if they had cast her opposite an Italian actor, instead of New Yorker Burt Lancaster putting on a half-hearted attempt at an accent.

This was Magnani's first Oscar nomination and her only win. She was nominated once more for 1957's Wild is the Wind. Most of her work was in Italian films and television, and the Academy tends to only recognize English-language performances (with a few exceptions, of course), so it's kind of amazing that she ended up with two nominations. Perhaps I would like her better in other roles, or maybe her style of acting is just beyond my ability to comprehend. Either way, I will not be revisiting this film anytime soon.

Stay tuned for Ingrid Bergman's second Oscar-winning performance

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