Monday, 7 December 2009
Focus on Claudia Cardinale
Claudia Cardinale in Fellini's 8½
The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) pays tribute to the amazing five-decade career of Italian screen siren Claudia Cardinale with Focus on Claudia Cardinale this February. This film season shines a spotlight on the muse of the most renowned filmmakers of the last century including Sergio Leone, Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti.
Deservedly famed for her sultry beauty, Cardinale emerged in the wake of Italian actress Sophia Loren and was touted as Italy's answer to Brigitte Bardot, who herself famously remarked: "I already know who's destined to take my place. There can be only one, and one alone. After BB comes CC, no?"
Cardinale, however, was never purely reliant on her looks and proved herself time and again to be an incredibly talented and versatile actress. The high quality of her body of work is reflected in Focus on Claudia Cardinale, from the rarely screened A Girl in Australia (1971) to Sergio Leone's epic masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) which screens fully restored, complete and uncut in this season.
ACMI Film Programmer and Curator of this season Roberta Ciabarra says, "Claudia Cardinale is one of Italian cinema's most glamorous and talented female screen idols. ParisMatch conferred the 'Italian Bardot' label on the fledgling actress when she made her festival debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 1961, but within just a few years, Cardinale was able to transcend the 'va va voom' tag and became the darling of established auteurs including Luchino Visconti and Federico Fellini, who famously cast her as herself in 8½.
"She featured in some of the key films in the careers of Visconti (The Leopard), Fellini (8½) and other cineastes including Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in the West) and Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo). In more recent years, Cardinale's alluring mix of on-screen grace, eroticism and dramatic intensity have been justifiably acclaimed with career achievement honours at both the Venice and Berlin Film Festivals."
One of the first films to establish Cardinale as a dramatic force to be reckoned with was her starring role in Valerio Zurlini's tender love story Girl with a Suitcase (1961), in which she plays Aida, a showgirl who lives on the goodwill of others. Cardinale has the presence to fill the role by making the audience feel for Aida, a woman who can't avoid being wanted by every guy she meets, and whose life has forced her to do a practical transaction: ultimately, she may not be exactly a (golden-hearted) whore, yet comes close.
Arguably one of the greatest films about film ever made, Federico Fellini's 8½ (1963) turns one man's artistic crisis into a grand epic of the cinema. As with many Italian films of this period, the sound was dubbed in afterwards. This film marks the first time Cardinale was allowed to voice her own dialogue. Previous to this, in all her Italian films, she had been dubbed. Initially due to her not being fluent in Italian (French was her first language) and then, as her Italian improved, her French accented Italian was perceived as sounding 'strange' to an Italian audience. However Fellini loved her 'strange' accent as it added to the mystery of the actress that he used to symbolize the ideal woman.
In the 1960s, Cardinale starred in some of the Italian industry's finest movies, including Luchino Visconti's The Leopard (1963). Based on the best-selling novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard is set in Sicily in 1860, during the violent years of Garibaldi's revolution. Generally considered the greatest of Visconti's films winning the Palme d'Or at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival and dubbed by The Guardian as "one of the grandest widescreen historical epics". The film was shot without sound, similarly to 8½, so the multinational cast (Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon) spoke their lines in English, Italian and French. Only later was the film dubbed into Italian.
Her second starring role with Visconti was in the rarely-seen Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa (1965) a modern adaptation of the dark and passionate tale of Electra and her brother Orestes, as told in Greek tragedy. Cardinale plays a women returning home to her Italian estate to honour her dead father, where she finds herself a prisoner of her past. "Terrifying magnificence" was the phrase used to describe Cardinale's performance and the film was awarded the Leone d'Oro (Golden Lion) at the Venice Film Festival.
Cardinale's most internationally renowned film is Sergio Leone's epic homage to the western, Once Upon a Time in the West. Cardinale plays Jill McBain, the central character in the film around which the other protagonists (Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and Jason Robards) revolve. Cardinale remembers her time working with Leone fondly and particularly liked her character's "grit, and her determination. She knows what she wants and she sticks to it until she gets it. You don't find many women's parts like that in Westerns".
Luigi Comencini's La ragazza di Bube (1963) is based on Carlo Cassola's 1960 novel of the same name. Cardinale stars as Mara, a woman who falls in love with a former partisan. Cardinale's controlled performance won her a Nastro D'Argento for Best Actress at Italy's annual film awards. Comencini's film was also her first starring role (following Fellini's good example in 8½) in which Italian audiences heard Cardinale deliver her lines in her own speaking voice.
Cardinale also caught the attention of mainstream America, making her Hollywood debut as Princess Dala in Blake Edwards' ever-popular mad-cap frolic The Pink Panther (1964). She shares much of the screen time in the film with David Niven who said "if you ask me, Claudia Cardinale is, after spaghetti, Italy's happiest invention".
A Girl in Australia is a hidden gem of a film in which Cardinale plays a mail order bride who is woo-ed via post by Australian immigrant Amedeo (Alberto Sordi) using a photo of his more handsome friend. The two Italian screen superstars both travelled to Broken Hill, and other more picturesque Australian locations, to shoot this charming comedy of errors, that earned Cardinale the David di Donatello (Italian Oscar) for Best Actress.
Among Cardinale's notable later pictures is Werner Herzog's classic epic Fitzcarraldo (1982) which documents an incredible ordeal that involved moving a 340-tonne steam ship over a mountain without the use of special effects. Cardinale stars opposite Klaus Kinski as Molly, Fitzcarraldo's unwavering confidante and woman of choice. The New York Times gushed over her performance: "Miss Cardinale.not only lights up her role, she also helps to transform Kinski into a genuinely charming screen presence."
Focus on Claudia Cardinale runs from Friday 19 February to Sunday 28 February at ACMI. Click here for more information on the season.
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