London, 24 March 1949
At the height International Film Festival in Venice in 1947, the Italian actress Anna Magnani won an award for being the best actress of the year.
It was the film Angelina that she used as a field from which to pluck this formidable bouquet. The film has just arrived in London and the only regret one feels about its arrival is that its journey was so long delayed.
Angelina has Rome as its back-cloth — not the picture postcard Rome of the tourists, but the slum Rome, the over-crowded district of Pietralata. It is just after the war, and black marketeering and bad housing conditions lead to discontent, but little action until Angelina rebels. She leads her own “war” against the Black Market; she crusades for her neighbourhood; but when she reaches the zenith of her power, a potential politician she realises that it is her home which should her Parliament.
Now, Miss Magnani cannot be called physically beautiful. She has a profile just on the attractive side of “homely,” and for the best part of the film she is content to allow herself to be dressed in rags and a soiled apron. How many English-speaking film players would regard the disadvantages of this equipment as insurmountable, as obstacles to be shied at?
Anna Magnani turns these things into auxiliary weapons for her part; she turns them into implements to be wielded with a sometimes terrifyingly efficient power.
She makes her Angelina a formidable character, but a character which is warm and human. Observe the meaning she puts into a grimace a shrug, a stare. It is not Anna Magnani you are watching; it is Angelina the embittered, tired housewife of the slums.
There will be many who will doubt this story of petticoat politics, but no true film-lover will doubt the excellence of Miss Magnani and her supporting artists.