We will soon discover Monica Bellucci in Anita Ekberg at the cinema in The Girl in the Fountain, by Antonio Panizzi. For Madame Figaro, blonde wig and blue lenses, she once again slipped into the skin of the iconic heroine of The good life, Palme d’or at Cannes in 1960. Engine!
She has just taken off her Balmain sheath, her gold wig, her blue contact lenses, but her “honey bath” voice immediately teleports us to the Trevi Fountain. However, the most international of Franco-Italian actresses has long since shattered her image as a Latin bombshell. Behind her, around sixty feature films, from auteur films to blockbusters, including comedies and television series… and at 57, the bellissima Do not stop. She returns from Rome, where she will shoot a comedy with the American director Catherine Hardwicke, Mafia Mamma, with Toni Collette. The next day, she leaves for Istanbul, where she plays in the theater Letters and Memoirs, by Maria Callas, under the direction of Tom Wolf. This show, where Monica Bellucci reads the intimate letters of the “golden voice”, was so successful in Paris that she traveled with it all over Europe, and soon to London, New York and Los Angeles.
The one who was the first James Bond girl of 50 years now enters the skin of another shattered destiny, that of Anita Ekberg in The Girl in the Fountain, by Antonio Panizzi. Neither biopic nor documentary, it’s a game of mirrors between two divas… and three women: Anita, Sylvia (her character in The good life) and Monica. “It’s a bit like a master class, she explains, the process of an actress to interpret a role. We see her wondering if she should accept or not, how to approach the character, do research on her, prepare with her coach, with the director, work on her accent. At the same time, the public rediscovers it through my eyes. There are flashbacks, archival footage.” It is also a mise en abyme of two eras and two star-systems: that of the 1950s and that of today.
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“Thanks to these women, those of my generation have learned a lot,” continues Monica. Especially to defend ourselves. At that time, when we had lost our youth and freshness, cinema was over. That’s the big change. Today, careers are long… In Europe, however. Look at Helen Mirren, Judith Dench, Catherine Deneuve, Nathalie Baye, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant… My age opens doors for me, allows me to tackle new, more varied roles. In Anita’s time, I simply wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work. In my last film, Memory, by Martin Campbell, an action thriller with Liam Neeson, I really wanted to break the codes. For the first time, I play a real tough, a woman of power. I gained weight, accentuated my dark circles. Having fun making oneself ugly is the privilege of age.
Monica and… Anita
“His parents would have deserved the Nobel Prize for architecture,” joked actor Bob Hope. However, nothing predestined Kerstin Anita Ekberg, born in 1931 in Malmö, Sweden, in a family of eight children, to burst the screen. Elected Miss Sweden in 1950, she missed the title of Miss Universe, but made a career in Hollywood and even received the Golden Globe in 1956 for her role in blood alley, where she shares the poster with John Wayne and Lauren Bacall. “When she arrives in Italy to shoot The good life, she’s already a star, says Monica. Beautiful, blonde, modern, free, with her convertible bought with her money. The one that Frank Sinatra nicknamed the iceberg greatly shocked post-war Catholic Italy. Yet she chose to stay there.
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But the sweet life will not end for Anita Ekberg, who died in 2015 in a hospice, alone and without money. “Even if she made other films, including two with Fellini (Boccaccio 70 and Intervista), it has always been brought back to the Trevi Fountain, a scene that has become iconic in world cinema. The good life gave him notoriety but became his prison, regrets Monica. Still, she had talent. Life scratched the woman so much that the artist disappeared. But even when she recounts her distress, there is a kind of irony, lightness, innocence in her that surely helped her to survive. She says men took everything from her and her home movie is called The Bitter Life. I hope our film will give her back the respect she deserves.”
Monica and… Fellini
“Alas, I never met him, but with The Girl in the Fountainit’s a bit as if I had turned The good life. (Laughs.) Of course, it’s a reference. His cinema, which always oscillates between dream and reality, inspired me a lot. Particularly La Dolce Vita, Eight and a half, The Nights of Cabiria… Fellini knew how to sublimate women in their difference. Giulietta Masina, Anouk Aimée, Anita Ekberg… None of them were alike, unlike Hitchcock’s heroines, but he loved them all and each one is magnificent in its own way. I come from that Italian cinema. From this matrix, that of Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Visconti. That of Anna Magnani, of Monica Vitti… To come back to The good life, apart from the film, obviously legendary, which received the Palme d’Or in 1960, for me it really represents glamour, parties until five in the morning, post-war youth having fun in reaction to the pain of war. But there have been many lives burned. It was also the heyday of Cinecittà. There were a lot of exchanges between our two countries… Alain Delon, Annie Girardot, Jean-Louis Trintignant… Everyone worked in Italy and, conversely, actors like Marcello Mastroianni or Claudia Cardinale often shot in France. Today it’s different, but there are still a lot of talented directors in Italy, like Paolo Sorrentino, Matteo Garrone and Alice Rohrwacher.
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Monica and… blondeness
“A blonde woman attracts attention, just from behind. She captures the light… Moreover, the cinema is blond. My blond icons? Monica Vitti, Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and, of course, Anita Ekberg. I haven’t often been blonde at the cinema, recently in The man who sold his skin, by Kaouther Ben Hania (nominated for the Oscar for best foreign film in 2020, editor’s note). I also wore a blonde wig in the series Ten percent ! Anyway, I love the transformation, acting is my job. For this session, we used the wig of The Girl in the Fountain. Thanks to the magic hands of John Nollet, it really is believed to be my hair. He explained to me that this artisanal technique dated back to Louis XIV. It takes a month to make it to measure. We put it on like a glove. With a tulle glued to the very skin…” John Nollet completes: “In the cinema, the hair is a very important part of the game, like a dot on an i. On Monica, it’s a blond pale gold, very clear and a little golden. In Hollywood, the blond helmet was a little whiter, almost silver, because in black and white films, the hair became a reflector. Besides, blonde actresses often played with partners who weren’t so that we only saw them. We bleached and recolored… A real hair torture. Today, since Christophe Robin among others, the blondes are deeper and more natural… We keep the roots darker to match the complexion and the eyebrows, to give relief.
“I went there often, as an actress, mistress of ceremonies and even a member of the jury. The first time was in 2000 for the film Under Suspicion, by Stephen Hopkins. I especially remember my emotion when I climbed the stairs with Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman. Afterwards, of course, I came back for Irreversible, by Gaspar Noé… I remember the riot, the scandal, the mixed love and hate. And now look, it’s become a cult movie. Without him, I would never have had the same journey. Cannes is the most important festival in the world where low-budget films can have a great destiny.
Monica and… motherhood
During this interview, Monica is eager to find her daughter Léonie, 12, who is waiting for her at home this Saturday evening. Deva, the eldest, who is starting her career in fashion, is in London. Monica tries to let go of him without ever letting go. “In this area, I have no advice to give. Being a mother is a gift of oneself, and even by trying to do the best, you cannot avoid mistakes. What is certain is that my daughters are the people who matter most in the world. As I got them late, I was able to work less and devote time to them, even if sometimes, because of filming, I wasn’t always there at the right time. Seeing me happy, fulfilled and passionate about my job also gives them strength. But, of course, I carry with me the Italian culture where the child is king, with the good and the bad sides. I am very protective. Eat well, sleep well… which they sometimes find a bit “boring”. Moreover, at home, we speak in French but we argue in Italian! Today, I don’t know which path Deva and Léonie will follow, but I feel that they already have an undeniable artistic sensibility. In my last film, Memory, I play a negative mother, just the opposite of me. In the cinema, one of the most beautiful roles of a mother in my eyes is that of Sophia Loren in La Ciociara, by Vittorio De Sica.