Sunday, August 16, 2015

1961: Sophia Loren for Two Women, aka La ciciara

In the first non-English language performance to win a Best Actress Oscar, Sophia Loren plays the widowed mother of a 12-year-old girl living in Rome during WWII. When allied troops begin bombing Rome, they flee to the mountains with a lot of other refugees, where her strength and resilience are put to the test by poverty, tragedy, and other hardships.

I was hoping to watch this movie in its original Italian with English subtitles, but the only copy I could find was dubbed in English, which was a little disappointing. I am virtually positive that Sophia Loren dubbed her own lines, since it certainly sounded like her, which helped, but it was still rather distracting that their lips didn't match up with the sound. Add that to the immensely disturbing plot and this becomes a movie that I will certainly not be revisiting frequently. That being said, I think Loren's performance was superb. Though she was only 25, and therefore far too young to have a 12-year-old daughter, she did an excellent job of interacting with the younger actress in such a way that the audience never doubts that she's her mother. She's also very good at putting on a brave face for her daughter, but then letting the audience see how upset she is when her daughter isn't looking.

Though this is a well-made, well-acted movie, it may seem rather surprising to find it on this list. Most Academy Award winning performances are from Hollywood films, not European films, and certainly not non-English European films. Though Loren's performance was magnificent throughout the film, I'm pretty sure she wouldn't have won if it hadn't been for the rape scene. It certainly changes the film from vaguely depressing to profoundly disturbing when the woman and her young daughter are attacked and gang-raped by a bunch of allied soldiers. It also gives Loren a chance to show how devoted her character is to her daughter; she doesn't even care what happened to herself and is only concerned for her daughter's welfare. So when her daughter immediately pushes her away, she is devastated, which Loren shows us in such a way that we are devastated for her. I think the performance still would have been Oscar-worthy without this part, but the movie would have been much less memorable and I don't think as many people would have voted for it.

Apparently, originally previous Best Actress winner Anna Magnani was supposed to play Sophia Loren's role, and Loren was supposed to play her daughter. There are several different stories out there about why Magnani dropped out, but whatever the reason I'm very glad it happened because the film would not have worked at all with a 25-year-old playing the 12-year-old role, especially given that the 25-year-old was the voluptuous, sexy Sophia Loren. I can't even imagine how badly the film would have turned out if they had made it that way. Fortunately, it all worked out.

Sophia Loren grew up with a poor, single mother in Italy during WWII, which probably worked to her advantage when making this film. This was her first of two Best Actress nominations, the second being for 1964's Marriage Italian Style (aka Matrimonio all'italiana), which she did not win, although she was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 1991. She's an immensely talented, gorgeous actress who is still alive and is turning 81 next month. She has done occasional work in the last few years, but it seems unlikely that she will win another Oscar, though it is possible.

Up next: Anne Bancroft

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