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Anna Magnani, La "Pasionaria" of Italian Cinema

Anna Magnani, La "Pasionaria" of Italian Ci


Anna Magnani (1908-1973), nicknamed Nannarella is one of the most talented Italian actresses of all time and an icon of Italian post-war cinema. Born in Rome out of wedlock and abandoned by her mother, she was raised by her nonna in very humble surroundings. She attended the Accademia Nazionale di Arte Drammatica in Rome and started to perform as a singer in nightclubs and cabarets, where she gained her early successes in vaudeville performances. She achieved international attention in Rossellini's Roma Città Aperta (1945), a movie about Italy's final days under German occupation in World War II, portraying the dramatic and memorable character of Pina.

She was an atypical star for her time. She did not fit Hollywood’s classic beauty criteria; however, her remarkably expressive face and her genuine, intense, explosive style of portraying ordinary women, made her one of the most successful and beloved actresses of Italian cinema. 

She loved Rome and was loved by her fellow citizens, who saw her as “one of them”. Together with Alberto Sordi and Aldo Fabrizi, two of the most prominent Italian actors of the same era, Anna became a symbol of “romanità”, embodying the Roman spirit.


Anna Magnani in "Mamma Roma"

Director Roberto Rossellini, with whom she had a short but intense relationship, called her "the greatest acting geniussince Eleonora Duse, an Italian actress of the early 20th century (regarded as the greatest of her time). Magnani became famous for her dynamic and forceful portrayals of "earthy lower-class women" in films such as L’Amore (1948), Bellissima (1951), The Rose Tattoo (1955), The Fugitive Kind (1960) and Mamma Roma (1962). 

In Pier Paolo Pasolini's Mamma Roma Magnani is both a mother and a prostitute, playing an irrepressible woman determined to give her teenage son a respectable middle-class life. The movie, although one of her critically acclaimed films, was not released in the United States until 1995, deemed to be too controversial at the time of its production in 1962.

Playwright Tennessee Williams was one of her greatest admirers and wrote The Rose Tattoo specifically for her. For her starring role in the 1955 film by the same name, she received an Academy Award for Best Actress, the first Italian ever to win an Oscar.

In her career, she collected numerous Italian and international awards. She won two David di Donatello, five Nastri d'argento, one Globo d'Oro, one Golden Globe, one BAFTA, two National Board of Review Awards, one New York Film Critics Circle Award, one Coppa Volpi in Venice e one Golden Bear in Berlin.

Do not miss the opportunity to see Anna Magnani in Risate di Gioia (1960), restored in 2014, as part of the 12th Italian Film Festival of Minneapolis/St.Paul, available online February 25 - March 4. In her role as Gioia, a movie extra who partakes in New Year’s Eve festivities in Rome, she masterfully depicts an imperfect woman, her joys and struggles, with a perfect touch of comedy and drama.

YouTube: The Passion of Anna Magnani - Trailer (EN)

Article written by Astrid Garino in collaboration with the ICC Editorial Team

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