- Bertini, Francesca
- (1892-1985)(Born Elena Seracini Vitiello.) One of the greatest divas of the Italian silent cinema, Bertini served a brief apprenticeship on the Neapolitan stage before being recruited by the Film D'Arte Italiana in 1910 to appear in a number of theatrical adaptations of the classics, including playing Cordelia in an early production of King Lear. Two years later she moved to the Cines and its affiliated Celio Film company, where she distinguished herself in a handful of films, mostly light comedies and melodramas, playing opposite leading men Alberto Collo and Emilio Ghione. Her first steps to stardom, however, appear to have been taken with her delicate and moving performance as Pierrot in the highly acclaimed pantomime Histoire d'un Pierrot (Pierrot, the Prodigal, 1913), directed by Baldassare Negroni and featuring Emilio Ghione as Pochenet and another future diva, Leda Gys, as Louisette.Although her acting style in emotionally charged melodramas such as Sangue Bleu (Blue Blood, 1914), Odette (1915), and La signora delle camelie (The Lady of the Camelias, 1915) could be excessively gestural and highly rhetorical, Bertini undoubtedly had a wider acting range than Lyda Borelli, with whom she was often compared, and some of her most acclaimed performances were in the more naturalistic style. She received special praise for her nuanced and realistic portrayal of the poor laundress of Assunta Spina (1915), a film that later would be widely regarded, both for its acting and its mise-en-scene, as a forerunner of neorealism.Having achieved an extraordinary national and international renown for her physical beauty, her acting, and her glamorous lifestyle, in 1918 she was able to form her own production company, Bertini Film, for which she produced and starred in a number of films, including Mariute (1918), a film that cleverly integrated a reflection on the life and role of the diva herself into its plot. However, a series of seven films on each of the capital sins, I sette peccati, made over two years but released all together in 1919 in order to achieve a greater impact, received a very poor critical and box office response and thus appeared to signal the beginning of a decline. In 1919 Bertini and her company joined the Unione Cinematografica Italiana (UCI) but were caught up in the ever-deepening crisis that was engulfing the Italian film industry at this time, a crisis to which, ironically, the astonomical salaries paid to divas like Bertini were contributing in no small measure.In 1921, revoking a million-dollar contract that she had signed with Fox to make films in Hollywood, Bertini married the Swiss count Paul Cartier and retired from the cinema altogether, except for a brief but unsuccessful attempt at a comeback in Paris in the late 1920s. In 1938 she published a set of memoirs, which liberally mixed truth and fancy, and in the postwar period appeared sporadically in a number of very small supporting roles, the last and most significant, perhaps, being the part of a nun, Sister Desolata, in Bernardo Bertolucci's Novecento (1900, 1976). At the same time she published a second version of her autobiography, Il resto non conta (The Rest Doesn't Matter), in 1973. Before dying, however, she was once again able to recount her remarkable experiences as a silent-film goddess in Gianfranco Mingozzi's celebratory television documentary, L'ultima diva: Francesca Bertini (The Last Diva, 1982).
Historical dictionary of Italian cinema. Alberto Mira. 2010.