By Raquel Stecher
Dubbed the Queen of Italian Cinema, actress Monica Vitti graced the silver screen for over four decades. She was best known as director Michelangelo Antonioni’s muse and together the pair made five movies including his “Trilogy of Decadence”: L’avventura (1960), La Notte (1961) and L’eclisse (1962). Vitti made films in Italian, French and English and thrived in both comedy and drama. She was a celebrated beauty and often referred to as the Marilyn Monroe of Italy. Vitti’s allure came from her detached ambivalence that made her both desirable and elusive, much like her L’eclisse co-star Alain Delon. She redefined feminine beauty with her slender frame and unique features with contrasted from the buxom Italian movie stars of the day. With her sad eyes, elegant Roman nose, sensual lips and haunting stare, it’s difficult to not be in awe of her appearance on screen. Most importantly though, Vitti was a consummate actress. Devoted to her craft, she was aware of her limitations but never held back from trying something new.
Monica Vitti was born Maria Luisa Ceciarelli on November 3rd, 1931 in Rome, Italy. She had a troubled childhood and dealt with poverty, isolation, strict parents, and the turbulence of World War II. Acting was a means of escape for her and she began to study drama as a teenager. At the age of 18, her parents and two brothers emigrated to the US. She opted to stay behind — not only to distance herself from her family, but also to hone her craft. Then, came her reinvention. She changed her name to Monica Vitti (the last name a variation of her mother’s maiden name Vittillia) and studied to become a professional actress at Rome’s National Academy of Dramatic Arts. When her family returned, they had to come to terms with her transformation. In an interview Vitti said, “I am so completely Monica Vitti that my mother and father call me Monica and not Maria.”
By the time she started making films, Vitti was already an established stage actress and part of a successful Italian acting troupe. She made her film debut in Laugh! Laugh! Laugh! (1954). A few years later, she met Michelangelo Antonioni when she became part of his Teatro Nuovo di Milano. This set off their famous collaboration and a love affair that would span a decade. Vitti dubbed the voice of Dorian Gray in Antonioni’s film Il grido (1957) and would star in his film L’avventura (1960). Antonioni’s films were modernist, surreal, and at times erotic. Vitti became the embodiment of his impassive female protagonist haunted by guilt-ridden angst. Antonioni cast her in La Notte (1961) with Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau and L’eclisse (1962) with Alain Delon. She also starred in Antonioni’s first-ever color film Red Desert (1964), opposite Richard Harris. The two drifted apart and, while their romantic relationship ended, they stayed friends for years. They worked together one more time on the television movie Il mistero di Oberwald (1980). About her acting Antonioni said: “I can say she’s an extremely serious actress. She comes from the Academy and therefore possesses an extraordinary sense of craft. ”