WE, THE WOMEN (Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, Luigi Zampa, Gianni Franciolini, Alfredo Guarini, 1953)

Called in the U.S. either We, the Women or Of Life and Love, Siamo donne is a composite film from Italy whose overall idea legendary screenwriter Cesare Zavattini originated. Each of four segments showcases a major star/actress; one tedious segment, with a labored postmodern spin, a starlet. The four “celebrities,” each ostensibly playing herself, are Ingrid Bergman, Anna Magnani, Isa Miranda and Alida Valli. Each segment is directed by someone else; for instance, her husband, Roberto Rossellini, directed Bergman’s segment, while Luchino Visconti directed Magnani’s.

Giving an exquisite performance that borders on delicate tragedy, Valli also is beauteous and glamorous almost beyond belief in her segment directed by Gianni Franciolini. (It is ironically launched by an unflattering glimpse of Valli as she is readied for the party that occupies most of the segment.) However, gossip-mongers as we are, our principal anticipation centers on the two titans who successively shared Rossellini’s bed: Magnani and Bergman. One disappoints; the other soars.

Despite the satirical brilliance of their collaboration with Bellissima (1951), Visconti and Magnani are involved in a forced farcical episode where, en route to the theater where she is performing, Magnani is being driven around Rome, where she is dispensing diva-dimensional gaiety and (intentionally) ill-fitting glamor at different stops. What a downer all this is—and coming at the tail end of the film. Filmmaker and star fail to conjure the comic fantasy they intended; spirits never quite lift off the ground.

But Rossellini’s contribution had me wiping away tears of laughter. I know, I know: Rossellini—funny? On this occasion, the generally tragic artist, as he and his wife go about debunking her myth, are a dazzling riot.

Bergman, expecting guests for lunch, discovers a crime on her grounds: her carefully groomed rose-bed has been utterly ruined! Did the kids do this? The dog? The culprit turns out to be her neighbor’s chicken! The spectacle of Bergman’s pursuit of the dumb bird, urged to the boiling point by her irresponsible neighbor’s condescension, unfolds outdoors and in-; in addition to providing an unexpected vision of Bergman engaged in lovely slapstick, the ordeal also provides superlative respites where she speaks directly into the camera. At the last she explains she wasn’t really trying to kill the chicken, at which she has directed her dog, but hoping to give it a good scare, even if this meant—for the chicken—a heart attack! Wait till the U.S. Congress hears about this!

Bergman’s agile, beautiful acting, lightning-quick yet throughly relaxed, is a sight to behold. This is by far her best comic performance, including the  one that brought her her third Oscar.

 

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