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A New Generation of Italian Actresses

“With its multitude of incredibly well known 20th century directors, actors and actresses, you could be forgiven for thinking that the best of Italian cinema was behind us.”

You can’t mention Italian cinema without thinking of some of the iconic actresses that Italy has shown the world. The 1960s brought Italian glamour to screens on an international level with Sophia Loren, Monica Vitti and Claudia Cardinale. Their names and faces, particularly Loren’s, continue to be recognised worldwide, and the effect that they had on Italian cinema can still be seen today. Their beautifully made clothes, their style, the impeccably kept hair, the characters of stereotypical Italian women that they played. Loren’s mood swings, wry smile and sense of humour brought glamour to even the most dire of circumstances in Ieri, Oggi, Domani, as did Vitti’s striking red hair and carefully considered outfits in the fog of Emilia Romagna in Il Deserto Rosso. Yet what about the next generation? As the stars of the 1960s approach their 90s, several actresses in their 20s are starting to make their mark on the country’s film scene, showcasing their talent and encapsulating just what it means to be an Italian woman in the spotlight today.

First, Matilda De Angelis, 26 years old and from Bologna, De Angelis made a name for herself on the international stage playing Elena Alves in the HBO series The Undoing. The show came out on American screens at the end of 2020, quenching 2020s almost insatiable thirst for new TV. De Angelis starred next to Hugh Grant, Nicole Kidman and Donald Sutherland. This first international project pushed De Angelis into the spotlight, making her a household name for her role as Elena Alves, whose violent death in the first episode is central to the overall plot. De Angelis didn’t actually train as an actress and never went to any acting school, achieving her first part in a film due to the fact that the director wanted a nonprofessional actress. The film, Veloce come il vento, resulted in her being nominated for two David di Donatello Awards, which are the Italian equivalent of the Oscars, and a host of further parts followed. These have included roles in L’Isola delle Rose, the series Leonardo and upcoming adaptation of the Ernest Hemmingway novel, Across the river and into the trees.

De Angelis plays her roles with a dose of Italian charisma and intrigue, her acting is incredibly convincing (particularly in The Undoing), and her outfits very stylish. Yet unlike previous generations (and before the advent of social media), she seems incredibly open with her fans. Her Instagram gives followers a window into her life but it’s not just stills from films and fashion campaigns. The 26-year-old is refreshingly honest about her struggles with acne, making her seem particularly relatable and human. Indeed, the age of social media has allowed an eye into the lives of film stars beyond the screen, changing our perception of them and giving them a very different place and role in society compared to the stars of the 60s.

Hailing from the Italian capital city there’s Benedetta Porcaroli. A minor role in Perfetti sconosciuti was followed by the 23-year-old making her break (aged 20 at the time) in the Italian Netflix series, Baby. Here she played the part of Chiara Altieri, a schoolgirl attending a private school in Rome, whilst simultaneously caught up in an underage prostitute ring. Watching Baby to keep up with my Italian and having just moved back from Rome to London, I was struck by the storyline and the sensitivity with which Porcaroli played the part of Chiara as she comes of age across the three seasons (both on and off screen). The series is based loosely on the real story of a scandal which was uncovered in 2014 and was dubbed “Baby Squillo” in Italy. The scandal involved high school age girls who were found to be selling their bodies for sex in the wealthy district of Parioli, Rome in order to finance buying luxury products such as designer clothes and electronics. Although a pretty disturbing glamorisation of the scandal, Porcaroli’s portrayal of a frantic Chiara as she gets more and more caught up in it, kept me hooked.

Other roles have included a part in 18 regali, where Porcaroli plays a disgruntled teenager, who after a car accident, travels back in time and meets her dead mother. Her happens to be pregnant with her at the time and as a result doesn’t know who she is. Most recently, Porcaroli played a main part in La scuola cattolica. However, it’s not just films, Porcaroli has even starred in an ad campaign for Gucci and a music video for Italian band Thegiornalisti, dancing her way through the single Maradona y pelé and showing yet another side to her.

Then there’s ​​Miriam Leone, a former winner of Miss Italy 2008 who made her break from television (Leone has co-hosted and presented several shows on Rai Uno) into acting back in 2011 when she took a main role in the television series Distretto di Polizia playing the part of Mara Fermi. 

Most recently Leone starred as Eva Kant in the 2021 film Diabolik, a film based on the 1962 Italian comic series which were originally created by sisters Angela and Luciana Giussani. Miriam’s character Eva is Diabolik’s lover and accomplice, but unlike other female protagonists, is portrayed as independent and a strong character in her own right. In an interview Leone describes Eva as a female character who is strong, interesting and determined and yet also sweet and in love with a man. Indeed, Leone attributes Eva’s strong sense of self to the fact that she is a character “created by two women.” Perhaps the fact that the authors were both female is the reason that Eva is able to be both sexy and authoritative, traits that are often only given to the main male protagonists and which Leone portrays with flair. 

Finally there’s Alessandra Mastronardi who was born in Naples (although she actually spent most of her childhood in Rome), and who is probably most famous internationally for her role in the film, To Rome with Love. In this well known Woody Allen film, she played Milly, a teacher of astronomy and young bride, who appears alongside her new husband, Antonio (played by Alessandro Tiberi), in the second cameo of the comedy. The 35-year-old has taken parts in both Italian and English-language films and series. These have included playing Francesca in Master of None, an American comedy drama TV series for which she won a Critics’ Choice Television Award in 2017. She also played the character Lucrezia Donati in the Netflix series Medici: Masters of Florence. Meanwhile, Italian film appearances include the role of Gloria in Prova a volare in 2007. Mastronardi also featured as the character of Stella, a young dancer, in the film Non smettere di sognare. Her last venture, a wonderful interpretation in Carla, a beautiful homage to another great Italian woman and the world’s most famous ballet dancer, Carla Fracci. 

With its multitude of incredibly well known 20th century directors, actors and actresses, you could be forgiven for thinking that the best of Italian cinema was behind us. Yet the future looks bright, especially with these four actresses already causing a stir both in Italy and abroad.