One Thousand and One Monicas: On Monica Vitti

By Amanda Ballerini


‘I don’t represent anything, I am the representation.
When representation ends, to me reality ends’

Monica Vitti

Monica Vitti, born Maria Luisa "Marisa" Ceciarelli (Rome, 3 November 1931), is one of the most famous actresses of Italian cinema. Her characteristic hoarse voice and innate verve have accompanied her for almost forty years of her film career, coming to be considered the only "mattatrice" of Italian comedy, able to stand up to her colleagues Alberto Sordi, Ugo Tognazzi, Vittorio Gassman and Nino Manfredi.  She also directed the film Secret Scandal in 1989.

Who was Monica ? What did she become through her movies? A woman who became famous both for her comedies and her dramas. A complete actress
whose vocation for acting didn't make her scared to live life, but allowed her to live every aspect of it.

Monica through Antonioni
Michelangelo Antonioni with Monica found a voice and a woman. Best known for his "trilogy on modernity and its discontents” (L’Avventura, La Notte and L'Eclisse), and his most enigmatic masterpiece ‘Deserto rosso’ he produced "enigmatic and intricate mood pieces" and rejected action in favour of contemplation, focusing on image and design over character and story. Monica in his movies acted as a filter which allows us to see more clearly and distinguish things in time of uncertainty.

Searching for connections in the midst of Alienation

Antonioni used empty spaces to create psychological landscapes. Monica,  living like a stranger in those fragments and inhabiting them at the same time,
becoming the only real character and spectator at once. Through Antonioni’s famous way of working backwards, going from an image to a consequent
state of affairs, Monica transforms from a character into stories and viceversa. There’s no need to understand what she means. Everything is pictured as a magnificent and scary postcard.

Red Desert  1964

Red Desert 1964

‘My hair hurts, my eyes, my throat, my mouth...
(....) There’s something terrible about reality and I don’t know what it is. No one will tell me.’
— Red Desert 1964

The actress of the gaze/ the insecure transitional performer
Monica become a tool to live the experience of awareness in the modern world, impersonating the self in the transaction with that same world.  After the première of ‘L’Avventura’ at Cannes in 1960, due to the public mockery the movie received, Monica declared in an interview that she cried for one entire night out of desperation. 
The performer is the character, and Monica surely didn't fear to become part of her very own ‘creation’.

Monica a metà
Half ‘Girl with the pistol’ and half Red Desert. Amusing, thoughtful, reckless, desperate, happy. Reckless, but always free. When she had been asked why she wanted to become an actress, Monica’s answer is simple: ‘I have a holy fire inside me, what am I supposed to do with it?’ A woman who has never liked to be photographed that much, scared that they could steal her soul. A woman who prefers to define herself funny than wise, always.

Blessed is she who has a place to take refuge, I am an actress...
Actually I’m a seagull.’
— Monica Vitti

A face that will never leave you
Monica, the haunting face you can’t forget coming from the middle class. A graphical beauty who unfortunately didn’t become part of the Italian imaginary like Sophia Loren or other actresses did. Monica in those movies keep a very subtle style, based on rigor, form, and endless elegance. With a modern European feel, an Italian understated glamour, but, most of all, blending with the scenery as a key element to understanding the characters and their purposeless lives. Where is she now? Rumours say she’s sick, hidden somewhere. Monica kind of disappears also in ‘L’avventura’, lost in her meaningless love for the man of her disappeared friend.