As I look back on the Bang Envy files, I noticed that there's a strong showing from the Italians more than any other. I would have thought it would be the French girls that dominated but no, when it comes to bombshells it seems the Italians know a thing or two. Which brings us to our latest installment: Stefania Sandrelli.
Although I first saw Sandrelli in a small supporting part in Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty (one of my favorites!), her early work from the 1960s shows her true appeal. It's unexpected, really. Sandrelli is so perfect playing the bourgeois Italian type because her beauty is sort of ordinary. Her eyes are close together and cross a little bit, her smile is crooked, and she doesn't have the kind of glamour or presence of Elsa Martinelli or Monica Vitti. She's cute, but not gorgeous.
As Jean-Louis Trintignant's character Clerici says in Bertolucci's The Conformist: "She's all bed and kitchen."
As a Vespa pin-up in the 1960s.
But then she turns on the sexy and the men seem to fall at her feet. Take Pietro Germi's brilliant 1961 comedy Divorce, Italian Style; Sandrelli was only 15 when she played the nubile Angela, the object of the middle-aged Marcello Mastroianni's obsession.
Her roles, especially from her early career, show a naive innocence that is eventually won over by the sex pot within.
I suppose it's her corruptible cuteness that makes her so appealing. She's a Lolita in a world of Humberts and every man's downfall. Again, this makes her perfect for the 1960s Italian cinema of middle-class character studies and satirical humor. Indeed, it's even difficult to find an image of Sandrelli from her early days where she actually has clothing on. She always seems to be in a swimsuit or wrapped in a sheet after tumbling from another man's bed. This is a bit disquieting because she was so very young at the time, which makes me wonder who was looking out for her. Also, she can act - both comically and dramatically, so it's unfortunate that her sex appeal is what is best preserved from this era.
Later on, the Sandrelli sex pot bloomed into her full glory, especially in films such as The Key and Jamón, Jamón which gave her cult status in the world of erotic film.
The movie poster for Lo la Conoscevo Bene or "I Knew Her Well" from 1965 illustrates the charms of Sandrelli front & center.
In The Conformist from 1970.
I love Sandrelli in Stealing Beauty as the advice columnist Noemi, because the role is so essentially perfect for her: a saucy, but aging beauty who falls for a younger man. Noemi is clearly a cosmopolitan woman of experience, but has decided to live the life of a Bohemian on a hilltop in Tuscany with other artists. And then love finds her. It's such an authentic story line for her, and so very appropriate for her age and personality.
Sandrelli (left), with Liv Tyler, Sinéad Cusak, and Rachel Weisz in Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty from 1996.
In 2005, Sandrelli was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for her lifetime of work. Today at 64, she's still sought after for films, and if she keeps this up, legendary status isn't far behind.
At the Cannes Film Festival, 2010.