J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sophia Loren and her Stage Mother

It is hard to imagine the golden age of Italian cinema without the great films Sophia Loren did with Carlo Ponti, Vittorio De Sica, and Marcello Mastroianni.  She made plenty of history in Hollywood as well.  Recently, the still glamorous Loren has increasingly found Italian television a hospitable place for her diva turns.  In fact, it has offered her not one but two opportunities to place her sainted mother.  In 1980, Loren played herself as well as Romilda Villani, arguably Italy’s most celebrated stage mother.  Thirty years later, Loren leaves the role of her ingénue-self to an up-and-comer, content with to play Villani in Vittorio Sindoni’s two part mini-series, My House is Full of Mirrors (trailer here), now available on DVD.

In many ways, House is a valentine to Villani and an extended middle finger to her absentee father.  At least the slimy Riccardo Scicolone acknowledged her.  In contrast, he steadfastly refuses to own up to her younger sister, Maria.  However, she would have the last word, writing the book on which House is based.  In fact, House is as much her story as it is her sister’s, particularly when the freshly minted movie star disappears with her producer-lover Ponti for months at a time.  It makes mother Villani feel downright unappreciated, over-sheltering the younger sister to compensate.

In fact, one of House’s best scenes is the meeting between Maria Villani (Scicolone) and Romano Mussolini, one of post-war Italy’s top jazz musicians and her future husband.  Yes, he was the youngest son of that Mussolini, but he did not share his father’s politics (or at least had the good sense to keep his mouth shut about it).  Unfortunately, he turns out to be all too Italian in other ways.  Regardless, it is nice to hear the “In Other Words” motif during their courtship.

Loren still has a forceful presence as Villani and Margareth Madè smolders up the screen as her legendary co-star (talk about an intimidating gig), but the RAI production often looks terribly TV.  (By comparison, season one of Don Matteo appears more polished.)  You would think they would want to step up their game for a screen legend like Loren, but no, evidently Euro-austerity strikes again.

Nonetheless, the novelty attraction of Sophia Loren appearing in her life story (again) will appeal to a number of movie buffs.  For many Americans, the last time we saw her was in Rob Marshall’s not as bad as you might have heard Nine, which shrewdly uses Loren as the film’s sure-fire applause generator, but does not give her very much to do.  Indeed, it is nice to see Loren is still as sharp and elegant as ever.  While House is pretty darned melodramatic, it gives Loren a meaty showcase for the acting chops that she has kept up quite nicely. 

Despite the underwhelming technical package, it is rather fascinating to watch Loren/Lazarro/Villani/Scicolone tell her story, in the persona of her mother, relying on her sister’s text.  Recommended for die-hard Cassandra Crossing-loving Sophia Loren fans, My House is Full of Mirrors is now available on DVD from Vanguard Cinema.

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