There are eras whose values echo through time, and which seem so beautiful in retrospect that they are difficult to repeat, making comparison with them always unfair and evoking inevitable feelings of nostalgia. When the name of Marcello Mastroianni comes up, even Millennials who consider themselves digital natives and believe that cinema is downloadable can, for a moment, retreat into another era out of reverence.
Twenty years ago in December, Marcello Mastroianni passed away in his home in Paris from a cancer that for a long time he feared above all because it could prevent him from being himself in the movies. The most invasive terror was that if he knew about this disease it might prevent him from still acting, and no pain can be greater than taking from an artist his art. Moreover, it was Mastroianni himself who claimed that acting was “better than making love,” after having contributed to making it more human, less elitist, and more that just a game: playing at being someone else, this was Marcello’s cinema.
And the art of playing had resulted in a situation where Mastroianni had over time learned to forget about being an artist, so that he moved on set as he did in real life, with simplicity and discretion.
It was not our of false modesty, but out of naturalness and levity that he suddenly took off the shoes of that “bel Marcello” whom Anita Ekberg invoked aloud while immersed in the Trevi Fountain. And while his notable laziness most likely contributed nothing in giving life to a not-too elegant egocentrism, that same laziness almost certainly conferred upon him without any visible effort that seductive fascination which entranced so many of the world’s most beautiful women.
He only married once, and never divorced: Flora Carabella, who gave birth to his first-born Barbara, was his first and only wife, although he had other lovers without ever divorcing her, even when he met Faye Dunaway, with whom he starred in Vittorio De Sica’s A Place for Lovers And that title was certainly farsighted. After her came many others, including Catherine Deneuve, who was both a delight and a cross to bear in his life, and with whom he had a daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, who always nourished a deep affection for her father. Other women followed, until his last partner, the director Annamaria Tato, last port of call of a life studded with tormented love stories.
And still, Mastroianni was sincere when he said: “there are surveyors who have had more love stories than me.” He ran from the label of Latin Lover because he felt that it didn’t fit him at all, and it was perfectly in character that he didn’t hesitate when asked to interpret the part of an impotent character (Il bell’Antonio) or a gay man (A Special Day).
Cinema counted as his most overwhelming passion, and his over 170 films in 58 years give the measure of the greatness of his career. He entranced women, of course, but especially directors, the same ones who gave him his celebrated roles and contributed to making him one of the most multifaceted actors in the history of cinema. First of all, Federico Fellini, for whom Mastroianni provided the counterpart in front of the camera; it’s no accident that his 8 ½ gave Marcello the keys to the cinematographic Olympus.
From that point on, his career knew only went up without any setback: he became a socialist intellectual in Mario Monicelli’s film The Organizer, formed one of the most successful couples in Italian film together with Sophia Loren, with whom he starred in (among so many others): Ieri, oggi e domani, Marriage Italian Style and I girasoli, all directed by De Sica; and Ettore Scola’s A Special Day, where he gave one of his best performances. Nominated three times for an Oscar as Best Actor, he won two Golden Globes, eight Davids, eight Silver Ribbons, five Globi d’Oro, a Ciak d’Oro and, in 1990, a Golden Lion for his career.
Cinema gave generously to Mastroianni and he returned the favor, but he also offered his art in the theater, which he never abandoned and in which he chose to conclude his career, with a final role that also served as a testament to his boundless talent: Le ultime lune.
Hollywood constantly tried to attract him to its sets, but he looked at that world with detachment—not out of snobbery, but because of a lucid admiration for Italian talent that led him to rhetorically ask: “The best films of today have been made in Italy: why, then, should I leave Rome?”
It was folly to consider him wrong in this. His cinema oeuvre is one of the greatest Italian contributions to a historical period that remains unsurpassed for tensions, freedom and intelligence. All one needs is to look at the images that flow in Marcello Mastroianni: I Remember to understand the art of Mastroianni’s life and the art-filled life that passed though him. This documentary-confession directed by his partner Annamaria Tatò contains everything: his sense of humor, his reticence, his tendency to play things down and his memory of a full existence.
And in spite of the illness at the end of his life, Marcello Vincenzo Domenico Mastroianni, as he was christened, considered his life rich, to the point where, on his last birthday shortly before his death, he said: “Today is my birthday; I’m 72 years old. Well, it’s a good age. When I was 20, imagining a 72-year-old man, I would have seen him as an old geezer. But I don’t feel that old: perhaps because I have had the luck to work, without rest. I believe that I have done more than 170 films: a nice record. So I’ve filled my life well; I can be happy. I insist: I’ve been lucky”.
Yes, Marcello Mastroianni was lucky, and we were and are lucky to have had him in our lives, for that artistic heritage he left to us, for those masterpieces that daily make the idea of beauty clear to us. He left us a contribution to the history of cinema and the memory of a face full of life and art.