Monica Bellucci: Essential Films

September 3, 2019
Blasting onto cinema screens this week in Nekrotronic, we look at the cinematic must-sees and career key points from Italian cinema goddess, Monica Bellucci.

Born in 1964 in the Italian village of Citta di Castello in Umbria, Bellucci originally pursued a career as a lawyer, and modeled on the side to earn money while studying, which soon led to a fulltime career on the catwalk. In 1988, she moved to the high fashion centre of Milan, and joined the top-shelf agency Elite Model Management. Although her modeling career was in top gear, Bellucci was bored, and soon made the jump to acting. She laboured on TV and in small, supporting parts before she got her first eye-catching international role as a vampire bride in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992. Bellucci’s real breakthrough role, however, came with the 1996 French thriller, L’Appartement, which scored her not only a Cesar nomination (the French equivalent of the Oscars), but also a husband in her co-star, dynamic French actor Vincent Cassel. A self-proclaimed “daughter of Europe”, Bellucci is a hugely popular sex symbol in both Italy and France, and a cult favourite in Hollywood. “I knew that I wanted to be an actress, but it was so difficult to be believed,” she once said. “Now things are going better and better, and the proposals that I have are much more interesting. It’s like getting older is getting better.”

BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992) Famous as a fashion model, Monica Bellucci’s film career began in earnest when Francis Ford Coppola’s son, Roman Coppola, saw a photo of her in a magazine and implored his father to cast her as one of three seductive vampire brides in his lavish, stylistic tour de force horror film, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. “It was just a moment, but I had to go to LA,” Bellucci told The Telegraph UK. “I think my dream always was to be an actress, but I was coming from a place where cinema was so far away from me.” According to The Telegraph UK, Roman Coppola would not actually meet Bellucci in the flesh until some 25 years later, at The Golden Globe Awards, where the TV series, Mozart In The Jungle, which he co-created, won an award. ‘He said, “Hey! You have to give me something because I am the one who discovered you.”’ Bellucci’s highly sexualised scenes with Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula are an appropriate precursor to what would become a famously uninhibited on-screen career.

L’APPARTEMENT (1996) Though she had made a few films prior, the movie that really put Monica Bellucci on the international map was the moody, beautifully realised 1996 thriller, L’Appartement, directed by Gilles Mimouni. The tale of a recently engaged man who glimpses a former lover and becomes obsessed with meeting her again, the film is awash with Alfred Hitchcock-style flourishes and plot twists aplenty. This was also the film on which Bellucci met her eventual husband – powerhouse French actor, Vincent Cassel – to whom she would be married for fourteen years. When asked by The Glass Magazine to pick her favourite film from her back catalogue, Bellucci tellingly chose L’Appartement. “It gave me so much,” she said. “It was my first French movie, it won a BAFTA, and through that film I had the chance to make my first American film, with Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman, called Under Suspicion. And through [Under Suspicion], I could go to Cannes for the first time. It’s incredible how life is strange, and how a mix of coincidences brings you someplace that isn’t [down to] you.”

DOBERMANN (1997) While not enormously successful internationally, Dobermann was a major smash and cult favourite in France, and saw Bellucci teaming again (as she would on several occasions) with husband, Vincent Cassel. Directed by Jan Dounen (Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky), the film is wild, uncompromising, relentlessly violent, and often very funny. Bellucci plays Nat The Gypsy, the deaf girlfriend of Cassel’s Dobermann, a charismatic bank robber who pulls off a major heist, after which he and his gang find themselves pursued by a ruthless and sadistic cop (Tcheky Karyo). “This is a film disconcertingly at ease with the hyper-charged squalor of its dog-eat-dog criminal netherland,” said Time Out. “The attraction is obvious – guns’n’goons here mean sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, at high speed and volume – and obviously limited. Either you get off on this cartoon nihilism or you get out.”

MALENA (2000) Truly on the rise, it was Monica Bellucci’s stunning performance – which saw her frequently compared to past Italian screen goddesses like Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida – in Giuseppe Tornatore’s (Cinema Paradiso) Malena that really turned up the heat. As an enigmatic widow who sets a small Sicilian town alight during WW2 with her ravishing beauty and sense of mystery, Bellucci’s performance is even more amazing for the fact that it is done with virtually no dialogue. “The film is just so incredible,” Bellucci told FilmInk upon the film’s release in her enchantingly cross-pollinated French/Italian accent. “It’s another way to act. I was very scared. This is Giuseppe Tornatore’s film, and I’m very humble about that. But can I tell you something? Maybe I would love to have two or three more scenes more like when the women beat me up… like the same power… not necessarily being beat up like that, but a scene with the same power. Or the scene when they take me to the court. Two or three more scenes like that, I would love. But it’s not my film – it’s Giuseppe’s film, and it’s what he wanted to do. But I think in the end, Malena is there anyway, and I think this film speaks to many people.”

BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (2001) Directed by Christophe Gans, The Brotherhood Of The Wolf is a fantastical horror/period extravaganza that taps French, Hong Kong and American cinema styles to extraordinary effect. Set in the 1700s, the film follows naturalist and ex-soldier Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel LeBihan) and his mysterious Native American right-hand man (Mark Dacascos), who journey into the French wilderness to assist in tracking down an other-worldly beast that has been terrorising the countryside. With a then-massive-for-France US$29million budget, the film was a box office phenomenon at home and a cult hit around the world. An over-the-top freak-out of the first order, it also features electric work from Bellucci as Sylvia, a sexy, keenly intelligent brothel mistress who is eventually revealed to be a Vatican spy/assassin, who has been sent to oversee Fronsac’s investigation and to ensure that the (very, very crazy and wholly inspired) conspiracy behind the beast’s rampage does not threaten the Papacy. “My body is so important to me… my face, my arms, my legs, my hands, my eyes, everything,” Bellucci once said. “I use everything I have.” In The Brotherhood Of The Wolf, this bold statement is particularly true.

IRREVERSIBLE (2002) Directed by enfant terrible, Gaspar Noe (I Stand Alone), 2002’s Irreversible is still renowned as a piece of contemporary outlaw cinema. From its narrative structure (the film is told in reverse order in a series of hand held single camera takes) to its plot (an enraged Vincent Cassel tears through the streets of Paris looking for the man who raped his girlfriend, played by Monica Bellucci) and its blinding, ferociously unforgiving “set piece” (the rape of Bellucci is ground out in horrifying detail, taking up nearly ten agonising, wholly excruciating minutes of screen time), Irreversible rattles every possible emotion there is. Bellucci’s horrific debasement, meanwhile, is one of the most notorious scenes in cinema history. With her brave performance going well beyond the call of duty, perceptions of the Italian screen goddess radically changed with Irreversible. “I’m the co-producer of the movie and I knew from the beginning that this was the movie for her to buy a ticket to respect,” Vincent Cassel told FilmInk. “She’s so beautiful and then she gets raped in the ass by a guy who says to her ‘because you’re beautiful you think you can do whatever you want.’ Even the people who hated her for what she was, I think they feel they want to defend her after the movie.”

THE MATRIX RELOADED/REVOLUTIONS (2003) Bellucci’s first blockbuster international role (along with the now largely forgotten Bruce Willis action flick, Tears Of The Sun) came with the sci-fi sequel The Matrix Reloaded and its shot-back-to-back third entry, The Matrix Revolutions. Brought in at the eleventh hour to replace singer/actress Aaliyah – who tragically died during filming – the movie represents the largest scale project that Bellucci had worked on at the time. It also reunited her with Keanu Reeves, with whom she memorably debuted with in the aforementioned Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Sitting in The Quay Grand Hotel at Sydney’s Circular Quay back in the early 2000s while taking a break from filming on the locally shot sci-fi epic, Bellucci was tightlipped about her role in the heavily guarded sequel. “Yeeees, I’ve got a role,” Bellucci told FilmInk while promoting the aforementioned Malena. “I can’t say anything – I’m sorry. What I can say is that I’m very happy to be in this film – and not just because it’s a big American film – but because I really loved the first one. The Wachowskis are very talented, and I’m very happy to be a part of it. I’ve been here in Sydney for about two weeks now, and I’m really enjoying it.” Though Bellucci’s role as Persephone was not huge, it was certainly memorable.

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004) One man’s deeply personal interpretation of The Gospels, or a blood splattered horror film tailor made for Christians? Anti-Semitism or life affirming experience? The questions and the controversy swirled around Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ on its release, but there was something about this film that nobody could argue with: it was a mammoth, from-left-field box office success. Critics and theologians went nuts in the media, while the punters flooded into cinemas for one of the most visually stunning, emotionally rending and cataclysmically violent films ever made. Jim Caviezel was devastating as Jesus, and the soulful, beautiful Monica Bellucci was perfectly cast as Mary Magdalene. “I did all I could to get an audition,” the actress told The Standard UK. “People would say to me, ‘Nobody will see it, nobody wants to produce or distribute it, it’ll make no money and it will raise controversy. Why on earth do you want to do it?’ But I wanted to play her because she moves me. She was just a sinner like you and me, her humanity and weakness touched me. She finds spirituality through Jesus; we all must try to find our spiritual side. I don’t care how large the part or how big the budget, I must feel something for the work. If you do something purely for fame, you’re selling your soul, and who is going to give it back to you? Nobody.”

SPECTRE (2015) While thirty-year-old French actress, Lea Seydoux (as the younger of James Bond’s romantic interests) had far more screen time, Monica Bellucci made an equal impact in her role as the more worldly Lucia Sciarra, the widow of a powerful Italian mobster who becomes deeply involved with Daniel Craig’s super spy. The actress, however, decried her position as a Bond Girl. “I try to say ‘James Bond lady or ‘James Bond woman’, because, of course, I’m not a Bond girl. [Spectre director] Sam Mendes is always intelligent in how he creates the characters in these movies. He goes deeper, and he goes deep inside. He’s created two different lovers for James Bond in Spectre.” Despite its sexist overtones, the coveted nature of playing romantic foil to James Bond was not lost on Bellucci. “I’ve seen the movies so many times, and I couldn’t believe that one time it would happen to me,” the actress smiles. “When Daniel Craig – who is such a gentleman, by the way – said, ‘Bond…James Bond’, I couldn’t believe that this time, it was me over there! I said, ‘Oh, my god!’ It was so funny. To be in a Bond film is great for an actress. It’s great to be a part of this tradition. It’s a mythology. Everybody knows it, and it’s a real tradition, not just in Italy, but all over the world.”

NEKROTRONIC (2019) Returning to Australia, Monica Bellucci provides more than a little international star power to this Aussie-shot sci-fi, horror and comedy meld from local creative team Kiah Roache-Turner and Tristan Roache-Turner (Wyrmwood). Bellucci takes on the plum role of Finnegan (Monica Bellucci), the greatest of the demon-hunting Nekromancers, who was the first to discover evil spirits inside the internet, and the first to jump her soul into the web to take the mythical battle between good and evil into the digital realm. But inside that dark web, Finnegan got flipped and turned bad, and as Nekrotronic begins, she has developed a dangerous taste for human souls. “I’ve got to thank Kiah and Tristan because they gave me the chance to play someone evil, to play a real baddie, for the first time in my career,” Bellucci told ET Canada. “I wanted to be in this because I really enjoyed Kiah and Tristan’s first film, Wyrmwood. You could really see how talented they were with that film. I had so much fun playing Finnegan.”

Nekrotronic is in selected cinemas from September 6. Click here for all ticketing and venue information. For much more on the film, click here and here.

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