• Festivals

Sophia Loren, La Grande Bellezza

Cannes Day 8

She came, spoke and conquered: Sophia Loren was the guest of Cannes’ master class series, and the lines in the hot and humid Palais de Festival started forming two hours before the much coveted event. The security was powerless against the onslaught. Many were turned away. I asked a young journalist if she had mixed up her calendar and thought this was a Justin Bieber event. It certainly felt that way.

The night before, the Italian superstar was accompanying her son Edoardo Ponti whose short film La Voce Umana premiered at the fest and in which she has a role. She has a long standing relationship with Cannes where she presided over the jury in 1966. La Voce Umana is the story of an older woman who has a final phone conversation with the love of her life.

La Loren appeared in a white Fendi pantsuit. The almost 80-year-old actress is stunning to look at and mesmerizing to listen to. Her confession, "I was never photogenic, never beautiful," surprised many but when asked if she thought beauty was as important as talent, she simply said "no". Easy for her to say. She still makes gorgeous actresses half her age fade into the background. When she came to the United States, she was told by a producer, ”Your nose is too long, your mouth is too big and your teeth are not straight enough.” But, she says, "Beauty is not important, you have to be interesting, someone who is different from other people.“ She refused to listen to the Hollywood criticism. "It would have been too hard. I said, well I'll go back home to Pozzuoli then, I don't want to change my face.“ She confided in Vittorio deSica and told him she had never been offered a job after going for auditions. "I said to him, every time I am auditioning, people never hire me because I'm shy. He told me he didn't want me to audition, this conversation was just fine. I didn't know what to say to this wonderful man. I nearly fainted on the spot." It was the same year, 1954, when she made The Gold of Naples with the iconic Italian director – it was her big breakthrough.

Sophia Loren admitted to limited knowledge of English when she came to Hollywood to do Arabesque: "I had no idea what I was doing or what Gregory Peck was saying." She then worked with Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, Clark Gable, and Paul Newman. She won a Best Actress Oscar in 1960 for La Ciociara and received an honorary Academy Award for her contribution to world cinema. She stayed home for the first Oscar ceremony because she was too nervous. Greer Garson accepted on her behalf and Cary Grant got on the phone with her to tell her she had won.

At some point during the 90 minute session at the Palais, Loren decided to switch from French to Italian, driving her translator crazy. She could, of course, have done the whole class in English, a language she is better at than French. She called Daniel Day Lewis with whom she starred in the musical Nine, "the greatest actor in the world today.“

And then the tears came. When she spoke of her great lover and co-star Marcello Mastroianni – whose face adorns this year’s official Cannes poster – she cried a little and had to stop to regain her composure. It was touching, it was real and it made half the audience tear up with her. It was the festival’s best moment. And a tribute to Sophia Loren’s humanity. "My life has not been easy," she said. "But I'm surrounded by people who like me, who love me, and I have to be very proud of my 80 years. I'm starting to count the hours, count the seconds; everything is important when you reach my age. Every so often you have to explode back into life." And this she did.