Monica Vitti, ‘Queen of Italian cinema’, dies at 90

Monica Vitti, Italian actress whose versatility gave her a mastery of irony and talent, to work with 20th century greats, has passed away at 90

Icon: Monica Vitti
Icon: Monica Vitti

She was dubbed the “queen of Italian cinema” – Monica Vitti, versatile movie star of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura and other Italian ‘alienation’ films of the 1960s, has died at 90.

Her death was announced on Twitter by a former socialist culture minister, Walter Veltroni, communicating on behalf of her husband, the photographer Roberto Russo.

Vitti had been living quietly in Rome with her husband, having reportedly suffered from a form of dementia.

Italian Premier Mario Draghi remembered Vitti as “an actress of great irony and extraordinary talent, who won over generations of Italians with her spirit, bravura and beauty. She brought prestige to the Italian cinema around the globe.”

In her glamour days in the 1960s, she was best known for her starring roles in L’AvventuraLa NotteEclisse (“Eclipse”) and Red Desert, all films directed by Antonioni, her lover at that time.

The two were constant targets of paparazzi.

L’Avventura won her international attention and praise for her role as an icy cool woman drifting into a relationship with the lover of her missing girlfriend. In Red Desert, the last of the cycle, she plays a woman suffering from a deep, elusive neurosis as she struggled to deal with a transformed industrial world.

Vitti was born as Maria Luisa Ceciarelli in Rome in 1931. As a teenager, she appeared in amateur stage productions, then studied as an actor in Rome’s National Academy of Dramatic Arts. Her first film role was in Scola’s Ridere Ridere Ridere (“Laugh Laugh Laugh”) in 1954. Her last was Scandalo Segreto in 1989, which she wrote, directed and starred in.

Vitti’s blond hair and blue eyes set her apart from classic Mediterranean screen stars such as the brown-haired Sophia Loren.

In 1970, Vitti starred with Marcello Mastroianni in Ettore Scola’s romantic comedy Dramma della gelosia (“The Pizza Triangle”). In 1974, she won the equivalent of an Italian Oscar, a David di Donatello award, for best actress in Sordi’s Polvere di Stelle, one of five such prizes in her career.

She starred in Luis Bunuel’s Le Fantome de la liberte (“The Phantom of Liberty”) in 1974, a surrealistic treatment of middle-class hypocrisies, considered her last major film.

After Vitti’s relationship with Antonioni ended, they didn’t work together again until 1980. At that point, she changed focus sharply and began making comedies, working with top directors and some of Italy’s leading actors, including Alberto Sordi.

In one of her only two English-language films, she found herself in a spy spoof with Terence Stamp and Dirk Bogarde in the 1966 Modesty Blaise.