In July 2017, when the French actress Jeanne Moreau died, so identified with the cinema of Louis Malle, François Truffaut, Joseph Losey or Orson Welles, many spectators and moviegoers trained in the cinema of the so-called modernity already began to have a certain feeling of orphan: the female stars of those new cinemas of the 1960s gradually disappeared, dignified by splendid filmography. This Wednesday The Italian Monica Vitti, another of the most significant muses of that modernity, has left.
And we can consider her a muse, with all the ambiguity that a term of these characteristics entails today, in the broadest sense of the word, since between 1960 and 1962 his association with who was also his sentimental partner, Michelangelo Antonioni, gave birth to the celebrated trilogy of solitary confinement, formed by ‘The Adventure’ (1960), ‘The Night’ (1961) and ‘The Eclipse’ (1962). They continued their fruitful relationship in ‘The Red Desert’ (1964), Antonioni’s first experience in color… and what a creative way to use color! They would meet again a decade and a half later in ‘The Oberwald Mystery’ (1980), an adaptation of a text by Jean Cocteau that served both of them to return to the idea of color photography as an experimental form, this time the electronic color of the incipient video of the time.
Vitti, born in Rome in 1931, and Antonioni, almost 20 years older than her, separated in the mid-1960s. Curiously, both then directed their respective careers towards the more pop and ‘swinging’ London: while he made ‘Blow Up’ (1966), an escape from his usual style to, among other things, overcome the personal crisis caused by the break with Vitti, she became an iconic and also very pop secret agent in ‘Modesty Blaise’ (1966), an adaptation of the comic book by Jim Holdaway and Peter O’Donnell directed by Joseph Losey. At that time it must have been difficult to see such a totemic face of Italian auteur and introspective cinema playing a born seductress and spy moving in the most sophisticated settings – her rival was a Dirk Bogarde with silver hair – but today, Modesty Blaise de Vitti is also part of that effusive modernity.
Before his meeting with Antonioni, Vitti had played supporting roles in not particularly distinguished productions. ‘The adventure’ was his opening to the world, demonstrating an exultant potential that would be ratified film after film. And not only in the margins of auteur cinema. Popular comedy, and especially episodic cinema, was another of his recognizable battlefields, with titles like ‘The Dolls’ (1965) and ‘The Four Witches’ (1966). It is true that once his relationship with Antonioni broke up, Vitti’s career entered a loop of less distinguished commercial cinema, but important for her because it served to demonstrate her natural skills as a comedian: ‘Kill me, I’m cold’ (1967), ‘The chastity belt’ (1967) -together with Tony Curtis-, ‘The most explosive woman in the world’ (1970) or ‘Hot beds’ (1979).
She did not abandon this record until the end of her career -she left the cinema in 1990 and in 2002 she left everything, a victim of Alzheimer’s-, with films made by Mario Monicelli, Steno, Alberto Sordi or herself: in that same 1990 she directed ‘ Secret Scandal’, in which she played a wife who distrusts the fidelity of her husband, the American Elliott Gould. Muse of a filmmaker and of an entire generation, she was also the model anti-diva and an actress who always chose her destiny. If today we talk about empowerment, we talk about Monica Vitti.