Isabella Rossellini a Roma 2023 received the Lifetime Achievement Award: to give it to her Renzo Arbore, with whom she began her first steps in the world of entertainment, and Alice Rohrwacher, who directed her in her latest film, The maltpresented in competition at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. The director wrote a very passionate speech for her, declaring total adoration for this woman who has entered the history of cinema.
Come actress Rossellini has in fact worked with authors such as David Lynch, Robert Zemeckis, Peter Greenaway, taking part in various cult films, above all Velluto Blu, Wild Heart, Death makes you beautiful. In recent years, however, he has decided to go behind the camera, thanks to the collaboration with Guy Maddin, who wanted her in the short The Heart of the World (2000) and who, as she herself explained, then accompanied her in her first steps into directing.
At the Rome Film Festival 2023retracing her career, the actress and director held a cinema lesson, revealing several anecdotes and behind the scenes. THE film by Isabella Rossellini in fact, they are also the key to understanding the person behind one of the most recognizable faces ever to appear on screen. Let’s start from the end: the last thanks was to his father, Roberto Rossellini. Who, having to give a lesson on set, got angry with the students, saying: “Why are you looking at the camera? If I were a writer you would look at my pen“?! Words that remained imprinted on the future author of Green Porno (2008), who admits: “Thanks to him I understood what to say is more important than style. That comes later. This was his great teaching“.
Isabella Rossellini: from TV with Arbore to fashion thanks to Bruce Weber
Isabella Rossellini inherited beauty from her own madre Ingrid Bergman. Even if at the beginning he didn’t really think about working in the entertainment world. Very young, in New York she was theassistant to Gianni Minà, who spoke no English, and therefore sent her on interviews. She recounts that period of her life with her smile: “I also met Muhammad Ali! There I began to learn editing techniques. Instead, from Renzo and collaborators like Luciano De Crescienzo I learned that if you tell something with humor it is more fun for us and for you“.
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Then, thanks to a lucky encounter, it arrives modeling career: “In New York I met at a party Bruce Weber, who asked me to photograph myself: I never imagined that this would pave the way for a modeling career. I thought that one day I would show the magazine to my grandchildren to show what I looked like when I was young! Before I had a little flirtation with Fabrizio Ferri, but he had never asked me to take a photo of myself. But I have cinema in my blood: not only for my parents, but also for my grandparents, Justus Samuel Bergmanwho was a photographer, and Angiolo Giuseppe Rosselliniwhich opened the Barberini cinema in Rome“.
Ok cinema in the blood, but in the moda Rossellini had great success: “I have done 500 covers, of which 38 with Vogue. Richard Avedon he convinced me to become an actress: at first I didn’t want to, because I was afraid of comparison with my mother. Avedon, however, told me that the work of a model is like the work of silent actors: one doesn’t just photograph beauty, there must be an emotion behind it. Without emotion there is no beauty. So I enrolled in drama school“.
Isabella Rossellini: filmography
To become an actress Isabella Rossellini studied, including on her own accent: “I worked to eliminate my accent, but I couldn’t. I worked a lot on it though, to try to reduce it. Now they’re hiring me to make characters with an accent, but an accent that can’t be traced back to a particular country! Like in The Incredibles and Marcel the Shell“.
The meeting with is fundamental David Lynchwith whom he also had a relationship: “David doesn’t speak on set, but he lights up when he sees something he likes. So I followed his reactions to understand how to build my characters in his films. In Wild at Heart I was inspired by Frida Kahlo: she was enthusiastic about hair and eyebrows, but when I suggested a mustache she instead made a face! It was too much. For the scene in Blue Velvet where I walk with my arms open, I took inspiration from the photo of the naked little girl in the Vietnam War. At the end the whole crew was crying“.
Isabella Rossellini and surgery
During the masterclass Isabella Rossellini also spoke about her relationship with surgery: “In Blue Velvet you can also see the scar on his back, David Lynch wanted to leave it, to give a further sense of mystery. I had scoliosis surgery as a child, it was very serious. Each time I was in the hospital for months and had to learn to walk again. I think I do a lot and everything at once because I think that maybe the following month I won’t be able to walk. These are extremely painful operations. For this reason I did not want to add interventions to those made plastic surgery. As seen in the last one cover of Vogue what did I do. Not because I’m against plastic surgery, absolute freedom is fine for me: I want to be free to have wrinkles“.
Isabella Rossellini: from restoration to direction
Rossellini was married to Martin Scorsese. The author of Wild bull he passed on to her the passion for restoration. An important first step in her journey as an author: “I was there Scorsese’s wife, who is a great cinema historian and one of the first to worry about the deterioration of films. He passed on this attention to restoration to me: I took care of safeguarding my parents’ films. I worried about my father’s films, which were well received but were rarely big box office successes. And perhaps the new generations haven’t seen them. We created a large archive for our parents: the one of my father’s films is here in Italy, the one of my mother’s films is at Western University“.
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The first experience as a director came in 2006, thanks, as we said, to Guy Maddin: “Guy’s crew is 7-8 people – everyone does everything. Nobody shoots like him. We also made a film together for my father’s 100th birthday, My dad is 100 years old (2006): for me it was the first time writing and directing, which we did together. Unable to imagine any actor who could play my father, moments together came to mind: he was fat, he had a huge, warm, soft belly, which I loved. That’s why I imagined it as a belly. He always said that he was envious of women, because he wanted to breastfeed us all! Robert Redford saw the film and really liked it: he bought it for his television channel Sundance TV, which promotes experimental cinema“.
Isabella Rossellini director
The friendship and collaboration with Maddin changed Isabella Rossellini’s life: “After making the film with Guy Maddin, who my agent told me would cut his wrists if I did it, he no longer wanted to represent me. I contacted others, but they all told me: we don’t know what to do with an icon. Even Lancôme, for which I was a testimonial, no longer renewed my contract. They explained to me that advertising isn’t about reality, it’s about dreams and everyone dreams of being young and beautiful. So, to avoid falling into depression, I enrolled in a university course ethology. I was the oldest student!”
The animal world is also crucial in the artist’s life: “As a child my father gave me the book The Science of King Solomon’s Seals, on animal behavior. I thought I would do that. But I was beautiful, so I was a model first and then an actress. But how could I become a director? I know nothing about technology: about lenses, about cameras. But, thanks to the restoration, I had seen many films, especially silent ones. And I was inspired by Georges Meliès. What would the tone of my films have been? Definitely comical, but I also wanted to cause surprise as well as laughter. I then thought of Buster Keaton: his face was always serious, he had a sort of perplexity towards life. I was inspired by him“.
Through his short films on animal sexuality, Rossellini has addressed important topics, such as sexual violence, which he addresses in Seduce me: Duck (2010). Switching to the other side of the camera was fundamental for her, and she only regrets not having started before her: “If I had to live my life again I would be a director when I was younger: it took me a long time for the usual blah blah about women. It is more difficult for women to be directors. Not to mention becoming scientists or ethologists”.