On Tuesday, Monica Bellucci will receive the Torino Film Festival’s Stella della Mole Award for Artistic Innovation, followed by the world preview screening of Italian director Antongiulio Panizzi’s “The Girl in the Fountain,” in which Bellucci plays Anita Ekberg. The Swedish star immortalized in Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” where her character decides to walk into the Trevi Fountain to the delight, and terror, of Marcello Mastroianni, has a “complicated” story, Panizzi tells Variety.
In “The Girl in the Fountain,” produced by Dugong Films and Eagle Pictures, and presented at the festival alongside Panizzi’s documentary “Piano Lessons: The Life and Art of German Diez Nieto,” Panizzi implies that the iconic scene turned out to be a burden for the actor, who got to experience what Rita Hayworth meant when she said that “they go to bed with Gilda; they wake up with me.”
“Anita was actually very famous already before ‘La Dolce Vita.’ Then, she turned into this image that Fellini created for her. Even when she was older, she would always play these very sexualized women, like in ‘The Killer Nun’ – she is a nun, a killer and still very attractive. We wanted to show that she couldn’t get away from what Fellini gave her.”
In order to tell Ekberg’s story, he decided to welcome a modern icon into the film as well, realizing that Bellucci would be the perfect match. But while Bellucci was also initially underappreciated as an actor because of her looks, she managed to steer her career in a completely different direction.
“We can see Anita through Monica’s eyes. But unlike her, Monica is in charge of her life, working on many films and generally at a great place in her career. Maybe the perception of women was different at that time? Either way, Anita was stuck in that fountain.”
Panizzi was surprised by what he found out about Ekberg, who once threatened the paparazzi with a bow and arrow. As well as her earlier success in the States, where she went immediately after winning the Miss Sweden contest.
“There were so many things that we couldn’t fit in the film, even though they really showed her larger-than-life character. Even the way she drove was completely crazy!,” he says.
In the film, he also decided to feature some old interviews with Bellucci, in order to establish the connection between the two. But while the actor herself started to notice certain similarities between their respective lives and careers, in “The Girl in the Fountain,” reality always mixes with fiction.
“We show this fictional director, played by Roberto De Francesco, who wants to make a biopic about Anita. He asks Monica to play her and, predictably, she goes: ‘Why me?’ They are both beautiful women but she is older than Anita was when she made ‘La Dolce Vita.’ She is hesitating,” he says, admitting that Bellucci, who played a “very active role” in making the film, was much more enthusiastic in real life.
“It was a small production and she was so generous with everyone. We follow her everyday life, in the theater [Bellucci acted in ‘Maria Callas – Letters & Memoirs’] and when posing for Vogue, but there is something fictional in every scene. It’s funny, because when she talks to her daughter about homework, it’s fake and yet everyone thinks it’s real. When her driver says that he actually met Anita in the past, it’s true and everyone thinks it’s fake. We had no idea – it was the first time he has ever admitted it.”
Asking Bellucci to follow Ekberg’s footsteps, also by visiting her old house, Panizzi started to create a ghost story of his own.
“I like this comparison because you have Monica, this modern icon, trying to summon Anita and this hidden, intimate side of her. What impressed me the most, however, was that on our last day of shooting, Monica arrived at the set with a letter she wrote to Anita. She wrote it the night before. She told me she would like me to read it, because that’s how she felt about her. We ended up using a part of it in the film.”
Bellucci will hold a Masterclass on Wednesday at the National Cinema Museum of Turin, where she will be in conversation with Panizzi.