The Italian Almanac

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Monica Bellucci

Diva

A Cannes audience gave a standing ovation to an Italian film about a pair of doomed screen and real-life lovers in Mussolini's Italy. The crowd stood and clapped for at least ten minutes at the first screening of Sanguepazzo (Madblood) starring screen beauty Monica Bellucci as sultry 1930s idol Luisa Ferida. Director Marco Tullio Giordana and Bellucci's co-star as 'Iron Lover' Osvaldo Valenti, Luca Zingaretti of Inspector Montalbano fame, stood in turn, blowing kisses and waving their thanks at the appreciative spectators.

Giordana, who recently had an international hit with La Meglio Gioventu' (The Best of Youth), said the two characters could be criticised for the way they ''fell into the roles of Fascist cinema heroes'' but ''at bottom they were just lost souls. Their deaths were not right''. Giordana rebutted accusations of 'revisionism' leveled against him for allegedly glamourising Fascist cinema, stressing that he had an ''upbringing steeped in Resistance lore and legend and I don't think I've betrayed that imprinting''. But he did admit taking liberties with what is known of Ferida and Valenti's lives. ''I based it on contemporary accounts and the letters they left but I deliberately played up the murky and promiscuous side of their ambience''.

Giordana also said Bellucci ''captures the glamour and vulnerability of a very fragile woman''. Ferida, who starred in a string of hits for the celebrated director Alessandro Blasetti, met Valenti in 1939 while working on Blasetti's Un Avventura di Salvator Rosa. The pair became partners on and off the screen and had a son before making Blasetti classics like La Corona di Ferro (The Iron Crown, 1941) and La Cena Delle Beffe (The Jesters' Feast, 1941). Valenti - whom Giordana called ''a fanatic and a hot-head'' - had been frequently seen in public with Fascist personalities and was even rumoured to have attended 'torture parties' perpetrated by the infamous Koch gang, a charge that was eventually disproven.

His fate was sealed when he appeared in propaganda news reels for Mussolini's Nazi-run puppet Republic of Salo'. The couple were caught by resistance fighters in Milan in April 1945. Ferida was four months' pregnant. They were sentenced to death and shot in the street without trial. Fascist apologists have insisted that Milan partisan commander Sandro Pertini - later one of Italy's most popular presidents - ordered the execution. Pertini's Socialist Party have repeatedly denied the claim.