Mastroianni - Synonym for Latin a Lover
“Melancholy and post-coital disappointment shine from Marcello Mastroianni’s eyes“, wrote David Thomson, author of the cult Biographical Dictionary of Film, about the legendary Italian actor. Film critic and historian Alexander Walker wondered about Mastroianni’s success with female audiences and analyzed the mixture of his acclaimed sex appeal and apathy on the edge of impotence. Regardless of whether he was in Sophia Loren’s arms in Italian sexy comedies or Jeanne Moreau degraded him in Antonioni’s The Night or Ursula Andress abandoned him in Eli Petri’s The Tenth Victim, Mastroianni remained synonymous with sophisticated male attractiveness and sexual pleasure. Walker wondered if it was possible that Mastroianni was so appealing to women because he seems to be too satiated with pleasures and thus his inertness is actually something that causes women to fall in love with him. It is interesting that even though Mastroianni was an internationally acclaimed star he rarely worked outside of Italy. Maybe he was best suited to the matriarchal (Italian) Catholic concept of male sexuality that few women can resist. Whatever the case may be, this actor with an intellectual aura was and remains synonymous with the idea of the Latin lover.
Marcello Vincenzo Domenico Mastroianni was born on September 28, 1924 in a small town Fontana Liri, close to Rome. Marcello’s father, a carpenter, withdrew him from school at the age of fourteen and sent him to Rome to find a job. The boy took on any job he could find. Usually he helped build film sets and sometimes worked as an extra. When the war broke out, the Nazis deported Marcello to a work camp in northern Germany from which he managed to escape. Until end of war, he hid in abandoned houses close to Venice, living in constant fear and hunger. When the war ended he returned to Rome and started to work for the British film distribution company Eagle Lions. He befriended students from the Drama Academy and often went to see their rehearsals.
“I was thrilled with what they were doing and when the opportunity arose I joined them”, he said. He studied hard, went to rehearsals and soon was noticed by the director Luchino Visconti who in 1948 hired him to act in his plays Death of a Traveling Salesman, Uncle Vanya and Streetcar Named Desire. He made his film debut in 1948 in Les Misérables, and in 1957, Luchino Visconti entrusted him with the leading role in his film version of Dostoyevski’s White Nights. In 1958, he starred as a likeable thief in Mario Monicelli’s comedy I soliti ignoti. He shined in his full might in 1960, after Fellini’s cult film La dolce vita in which he played the disappointed and lethargic journalist of a Roman tabloid who together with his colleague, photographer Paparazzo, follows famous people in night clubs on the stylish Via Veneto. The last name of his film colleague, Paparazzo (paparazzo is actually a common type of a mosquito in Sicily) later became a common name for photographers who stalk famous people and secretly take their pictures. Mastroianni’s partner in La dolce vita was the voluptuously built Swede Anita Ekberg, and the scene, in which she stands in a black evening dress, completely wet, in the Roman Fontani di Trevi and calls Marcello, remains one of the most famous film scenes of all time.
The genesis of Mastroianni’s personality of a “Latin lover” lies in his role of the journalist and member of the Roman jet-set in La dolce vita. Mastroianni liked to deny this image of a lover by choosing roles of passive and sensitive men. He worked with Fellini on several great such as 8 1/2 (1963), in which he plays a film director in emotional and creative crisis, and Ginger and Fred (1986) in which he plays an old entertainer who appears on a TV show.
Marcello Mastroianni was also the tired writer with a problematic marriage in the famous intellectual hit The Night (La notte, 1961) by Michelangelo Antonioni. He was great as the impotent young man in Il bell\'Antonio by Mauro Bolognini and as an exiled prince in John Boorman’s Leo the Last (1970). “He is a rarity among actors. He is not vain at all, which is the most common characteristic of people in this business. The source of his charm lies in the fact that he is natural, self-critical and aware of his possibilities”, Boorman praised Mastroianni. Nevertheless, Mastroianni never mystified acting:” I don’t know why Americans suffer and live through so much when preparing for a role. I simply get up and go to act - for me acting is joy and pleasure, my food and, I admit, exhibitionism”.
In the film Allonsanfan (1974) by the Taviani brothers he played a traitor, in Ettore Scola’s Poseban dan, (A Special Day, 1977) he impressively portrayed a sensitive homosexual who falls in love with a housewife. In the last decade of his life he worked with some great directors, such as Theodoros Angelopoulos, Bertrand Blier and Raoul Ruiz, who gave him the chance to star in three beautiful roles in the film Trois vies & une seule mort (1996). In 1996, Mastroianni died in Paris from pancreatic cancer. According to the general opinion, he reached his peak in collaboration with Federico Fellini, with whom he made eight films, from La dolce vita in 1960 to Interview in 1987. Thus in 1993, he presented the American Film Academy’s famous award Oscar for Life-Time Achievement to Fellini.
All his life he was great friends with Sophia Loren, with whom he starred in many films, the most famous among them being Divorce - Italian Style. Sophia Loren described their relationship: “I think such chemistry is rarely seen between actors. But with Marcello and me, from the first day, it could be almost be touched.” She was among the few of the actor’s partners who was also a friend of his wife. In 1950, at the beginning of his career, he married Flora Carabello, a girl two years younger than he with acting ambitions. The following year they had a little girl, Barbara, and Flora devoted herself to family life, abandoning her career. For a short time, the marriage was idyllic but as Marcello’s career advanced; his wife was less interesting to him. After a brief adventure with Anita Ekberg and Monica Vitti, Mastroianni fell in love with Faye Dunaway. This affair was short-lived as he spoke no English and she not a word of Italian. Mastroianni was always very open when speaking about his extra-marital affairs and his wife Flora always waited for him patiently and forgave him. He admitted: “I never promised anything to any woman, so none of them could accuse me of giving her false hopes. From my wife I get love and understanding and from my lovers passion. Women are like umbrellas; a few right moves and everything is tight”, commented the actor in somewhat of a macho-like manner.
This is really the way it was until he met Catherine Deneuve. Their love burst into flames on the set of It Only Happens to Others by the French director Nadine Trintignant, who chose the twenty-eight-year-old Catherine Deneuve and the forty-seven-year-old Marcello Mastroianni as leading actors. Later it became evident that Catherine and Marcello had been the most valuable partners to each other in their entire lives. From the first day they met, they were a perfect unity of opposites: she was beautiful as an angel, distant in her sexuality and smart, he - a charmer and a teaser, immensely likeable and irresistible.
After four years and a beautiful daughter Chiara, they broke up and Marcello returned to Rome. All his life he regularly saw his daughter and they adored each other. Unlike most of the women and men who shared a similar experience, Catherine and Marcello never said a bad word about each other. Marcello died in 1996 in Paris surrounded by Deneuve and Chiara’s love. “Who ever has met Marcello, can never forget him”, said Catherine. Each viewer who has ever seen any of Marcello’s films can only say the same. (Alemka Lisinski)