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Many, of course, have fallen over themselves to try: the latest being Sam Mendes, who has cast Bellucci as the mysterious Lucia Sciarra in the forthcoming James Bond movie Spectre.Here, starting with her greatest role to date, are the ones who best succeeded.Yet it’s Bellucci’s mourning face, mud and tear-streaked but still bright with grief, that gives Gibson’s laborious film one of its most enduring images.If you were feeling generous, you might call Bellucci’s role in Shoot ‘Em Up a parody of those same Madonna-whore predilections.But Giuseppe Tornatore, the director of Cinema Paradiso and Italy’s most openly nostalgic filmmaker, gave Bellucci the title role in his 2000 film Malèna, which would have suited a young Loren to a tee.Bellucci plays the adult daughter of a Latin schoolmaster in an idyllic town on the south coast of inter-war Sicily.
Considering its tinder-box subject matter, the film’s often oddly subdued, but whenever Bellucci’s on screen – not least in a tense erotic clinch with a Nazi officer’s girlfriend (Lavinia Longhi) in the Fascist stronghold of Salò – the elusive wild blood of its title starts to surge.
Bellucci plays Lisa, the former lover of an engaged businessman played by Vincent Cassel, who impetuously ditches a business trip to Tokyo in order to track her down after overhearing her – or at least someone he’s fairly certain was her – behind the opaque glass panels of a phone booth in a restaurant basement.
The film is best-known for being remade in English, very badly, as Wicker Park, and second-best-known as the shoot on which Bellucci and Cassel met. The film toys with ideas from both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and Lisa’s relationship with Romane Bohringer’s elusive Alice – note the mirrored syllables in the two women’s names –becomes the source of near-infinite intrigue.
To young Gelsomina, Milly is an ideal of Italian womanhood – worlds apart from, yet also somehow intimately connected to, her own family’s hardscrabble life keeping bees on the swelling Umbrian hillsides.
It’s a role that makes you reflect on Bellucci’s own 25-year acting career: like Milly, she seems to have beamed down to the drab present from another era, where the colours are brighter and emotions more keenly felt.