‘Queen of Italian cinema’ Monica Vitti dies at 90

Monica Vitti, the versatile star of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura and other Italian alienation movies of the 1960s, and later a leading comic actress, has died at the age of 90.

Her death was announced on Wednesday by a former culture minister, Walter Veltroni, who said he had been asked to communicate her death by her husband, photographer Roberto Russo.

“Goodbye to the queen of Italian cinema,” culture minister Dario Franceschini wrote in a statement.

Vitti had been out of the public spotlight for years, living quietly in Rome with Russo. She reportedly suffered from dementia.

In her glamor days in the 1960s, she was best known for her starring roles in L’Avventura, La Notte, Eclisse and Red Desert, all directed by Antonioni, her lover at that time.

Italy Monica VItti Obit
Monica Vitti with Michelangelo Antonioni in 1967 (AP)

The two were constant targets of paparazzi.

L’Avventura won her international attention and praise for her role as an ice cool woman drifting into a relationship with the lover of her missing girlfriend.

In Red Desert, the last of the cycle, she plays a woman with a deep neurosis as she struggles to deal with a transformed industrial world.

Vitti’s blonde hair and blue eyes set her apart from classic Mediterranean screen stars such as the brown-haired Sophia Loren.

Antonioni paid tribute to her performance at a special screening in New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1999 to mark completion of a restoration project for Italian film.

“The protagonist, Giuliana, goes through a profound personal crisis because of her inability to adapt,” he said, in remarks read by his wife Enrica.

Monica Vitti in 2000
Monica Vitti in 2000 (Marco Ravagli/AP)

After Vitti’s relationship with Antonioni ended, they did not work together again until 1980.

At that point, she changed focus sharply and began making comedies, working with top directors and some of Italy’s leading actors, including Alberto Sordi, in films whose characters often personified Italians’ strengths and foibles.

While many of the films did not gain international distribution or acclaim, her performances were greeted with success at home.

In 1970, Vitti starred with Marcello Mastroianni in Ettore Scola’s romantic comedy Dramma Della Gelosia. In 1974, she won the equivalent of an Italian Oscar, a David di Donatello award, for best actress in Sordi’s Polvere Di Stelle, one of five such prizes in her career.

She starred in Luis Bunuel’s Le Fantome De La Liberte in 1974, a surrealistic treatment of middle-class hypocrisies, considered her last major film.

Her versatility distinguished her from other actresses of her period.

In a memorable scene in Amore Mio Aiutami, she and Sordi roll in the sand trading slaps and punches.

Monica Vitti and Alberto Sordi show their Golden Lions career awards at the Venice Film Festival in 1995
Monica Vitti and Alberto Sordi show their Golden Lions career awards at the Venice Film Festival in 1995 (Luigi Costantini/AP)

In one of her only two English-language films, she found herself in a spy spoof with Terence Stamp and Dirk Bogarde in 1966’s Modesty Blaise.

Vitti was born as Maria Luisa Ceciarelli in Rome in 1931.

As a teenager, she appeared in amateur stage productions, then studied as an actor at Rome’s National Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Her first film role was in Scola’s Ridere Ridere Ridere in 1954. Her last was Scandalo Segreto in 1989, which she wrote, directed and starred in.

In 1995, the Venice Film Festival awarded her a Golden Lion award for career achievement.

Italian premier Mario Draghi remembered Vitti as “an actress of great irony and extraordinary talent, who won over generations of Italians with her spirit, bravery and beauty. She brought prestige to the Italian cinema around the globe”.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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