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When casting children's roles, director Luchino Visconti (The Leopard; Death in Venice) is said to have been besieged by clamouring mothers, each trying to attract his attention to their child with cries of "Bellissima!". In his film of the same name, Visconti turned his experiences into art, in the form of a satire on the motivations and machinations at work in the film industry, with the famous Cinecittà studios as a backdrop.
Maddalena (Anna Magnani) is a screenstruck mother convinced of her daughter Maria's (Tina Apicella) star potential. Dreaming of a better life for her family - as a means of escape from the struggles of everyday existence in working-class Rome - she invests everything, including her last penny, into the dream that her daughter will be discovered at an open casting. However, on overhearing the film crew's candid assessment of her daughter's audition (in what Variety described in 1952 as "one of the cruellest scenes ever filmed") Maddalena is forced to reconsider her views on the film industry and its world of illusions.
Written by Cesare Zavattini (Shoeshine; Bicycle Thieves), Bellissima stars Italy's most famous actress, Oscar-winning Magnani (Rome, Open City; The Rose Tattoo; Mamma Roma), in a bravura performance that moved Hollywood legend Bette Davis to make the following tribute: "This is Magnani, tempestuous. This is Magnani, brilliant and uninhibited. This is Magnani full of volcanic, earthy power. This is Magnani, tender, poignant, and unbelievably stirring". The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present - for the first time on DVD in the UK - Visconti's exposé of false dreams and shallow fantasies behind the screen, a subtle critique of the industry in
which he worked.