Starting this week, we present a biweekly post focusing on new additions to the streaming channel Filmstruck, a partnership between Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection. Filmstruck is currently featuring Italian actress Anna Magnani (1908-1973), whom filmmaker Roberto Rossellini called “the greatest acting genius since Eleonora Duse.” Noted for her raw, intense performances, she starred in films for Rossellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Federico Fellini, Sidney Lumet, Jean Renoir, and Luchino Visconti. Tennessee Williams wrote The Rose Tattoo for her.
Two justly celebrated short features by the great Roberto Rossellini, The Human Voice and The Miracle, both starring Magnani, were combined into this 1948 feature, devoted, according to Rossellini, to earthly love and the beginning of divine love respectively. The first is an innovative adaptation of a one-act play by Jean Cocteau with only one on-screen character, recorded in direct sound; the second is a controversial tale (coscripted by Fellini) about the seduction of a naive shepherdess by a man she believes is Saint Joseph. In Italian with subtitles. 69 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum
The Fugitive Kind
Marlon Brando is pitted against Magnani in this 1960 adaptation by Tennessee Williams and Meade Roberts of Williams’s play Orpheus Descending, and as Dave Kehr once remarked in these pages, “It’s the biggest grudge match since King Kong met Godzilla.” Unfortunately, director Sidney Lumet, who’s often out of his element when he leaves New York, seems positively baffled by the gothic south and doesn’t know quite what to do with the overlay of Greek myth either. With Joanne Woodward, Victor Jory, and Maureen Stapleton. 135 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum
The Golden Coach
Essential viewing. Magnani plays the head of a commedia dell’arte troupe touring colonial Peru in the early 18th century who dallies with three lovers (Paul Campbell, Ricardo Rioli, and Duncan Lamont) in this pungent, gorgeous color masterpiece by Jean Renoir, shot in breathtaking images by his nephew Claude (1952). In fact, this filmic play-within-a-play, based on a Prosper Merimee stage work, is a celebration of theatricality and a meditation on the beauties and mysteries of acting—it’s both a key text and pleasurable filmmaking at its near best. Though generally regarded as a French film, the original and better version is in English, which is almost invariably what gets shown in the states. With Odoardo Spadaro, Nada Fiorelli, and Jean Debucourt. 101 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum
The least known of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s features in this country also happens to be one of his best. It stars Magnani at her most volcanic, hyperbolic, and magnificent as a Roman prostitute trying to go straight and provide a respectable middle-class existence for her teenage son. Interestingly enough, while the slums of Rome were Pasolini’s essential turf, he dealt with them directly only in his first two films, Accattone (1961) and Mamma Roma (1962), turning mainly to period films and allegories in his subsequent movies. But the ultimate rejection of the bourgeois and petit bourgeois world is as total in the subproletarian milieu of this film as it would be in his later work. Not to be missed; with Ettore Garofolo, Franco Citti, and Silvana Corsini. In Italian with subtitles. 111 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum
Rossellini’s 1946 story of a group of workers and a priest in 1943-’44 Rome, declared an “open city” by the Nazis, was begun only two months after the liberation. Its realistic treatment of everyday Italian life heralded the postwar renaissance of the Italian cinema and the development of neorealism; the film astonished audiences around the world and remains a masterpiece. With Magnani, Aldo Fabrizi, and Maria Michi. In Italian with subtitles. 101 min. —Don Druker