Monica Bellucci was among the guests of honor at the 14th edition of the Lumière Film Festival in Lyon, where the Paris-based Italian icon discussed her latest film, “The Girl in the Fountain,” and looked back on her career.
In “The Girl in the Fountain,” which alternates archival footage of Hollywood icon Anita Ekberg with the story of Bellucci, the Italian actress retraces Ekberg’s frailties and choices, reflecting on what it feels like to be an icon.
The Swedish-born star was immortalized in Federico Fellini’s film, which sees her character wade into the Trevi fountain followed by Marcello Mastroianni.
“Through my eyes, you find out who this actress was, and it’s a piece of Italian history that we’re telling. But ‘La Dolce Vita’ isn’t just about post-war Italy – it has an international reach. At the time, there was so much creativity, there were so many great filmmakers – Fellini, Rossellini, Visconti, De Sica – it’s a part of the history of cinema,” she said.
Bellucci likened Ekberg’s arrival in Italy to a “tornado” – “this blonde, sexy, free woman, with a convertible car and her own house, in a country where a woman’s place was still in the kitchen…. It was a massive cultural contrast, which was scary for some.
“Today’s women learn a lot from such women: They were the first who challenged the established codes,” she added.
While she initially questioned director Antongiulio Panizzi’s choice – “I am so Mediterranean, she was so blonde and blue-eyed!” – Bellucci gradually understood it as she was shooting the film and the similarities between the two emerged.
Like Ekberg, Bellucci, too, left her home-country. And, like Ekberg, she has had to contend with the iconic status her beauty has granted her.
“Of course, being pretty helped open doors, it would be a lie to say otherwise, I was shy even though I talk a lot,” she smiled, “So beauty meant people came to me.
“But beauty only lasts five minutes if there’s nothing behind. What you must know is that, from the age of 40, they offer you roles as a witch!” she said mischievously, drawing laughter from the audience. “But you mustn’t cry, you must take on these roles: A whole new range [of roles] opens up. Before that, you were too young and pretty, and you must welcome this opportunity.”
When she shot the controversial “Irréversible” with Gaspar Noé in 2001, Bellucci, a former model, said she had no problem using her body as “a working tool”.
“An actor, like a dancer, uses his body as an instrument, just like a musician has his instrument. Today,” she added with a smile, “I use it much less – there’s a time for everything – but I came from the world of fashion, so I was used to using my body as a means of expression.”
While she said she understands that people can’t watch that film because of its violent content, she was interested in “the contrast between poetry, love and gentleness, and the terrible side of Man, who is both a marvellous and a monstrous being.”
“This film has that power, also in the way it was shot – with a 20-minute sequence – normally, that only happens in the theater,” she said, adding that the film is studied at university because that was something new in cinema.
Asked whether she preferred working with young or more experienced directors, Bellucci said: “You can work with both – you have to see the film once it’s completed to understand. I am open to everything – what matters is that I feel alive.”
Monica Bellucci’s latest film, “The Girl in the Fountain,” is out now.
The Lumière Film Festival runs in Lyon through Oct. 23.