It has often been said that Anna Magnani was an instinctive actress. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anna Magnani wasn’t an instinctive actress at all. She was a top-class professional with a polished technique. She knew more about when and when not to use certain types of shot than many film directors. Many times at the end of a sequence I’ve heard the director say: «Fine, that’s perfect» and then seen her turn to him and say that it could be done much better. Even when she read a script she knew exactly what she would be able to get out of the character she was playing and her criticisms were always right to the point and extraordinarily accurate.
Magnani’s is the face of indomitable reality, of a beauty so profound to seem simultaneously pain and ecstasy.
When I look at an empty screen as the house lights dim, two faces are suddenly conjured up before my eyes. One is Garbo‘s, the other Magnani‘s. Garbo‘s is of romantic dreams, of a beauty so ethereal to seem both of this world and out of this world. Magnani‘s is the face of indomitable reality, of a beauty so profound to seem simultaneously pain and ecstasy. There are other great actresses to whom I gladly pay homage, but Garbo and Magnani are two giants of the screen for me. Though they seem in absolute contrast, even in total contradiction, the woman of the north and the woman of the south merge into one in an exalted paean to the terrible poetry of life.
The scene on the river with Walter Chiari was entirely her invention… and also the scene when she remains alone with the child in the deserted piazza. That pained cry for help was hers, and hers alone. Luchino Visconti