Monica Vitti, ‘Queen of Italian Cinema’ and star of Antonioni’s 1960s masterworks, passes away at 90

Vitti's death brings us to the end of a long line of actresses whose work helped establish cinema as one of the most important art forms of the 20th century

Monica Vitti, ‘Queen of Italian Cinema’ and star of Antonioni’s 1960s masterworks, passes away at 90
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Murtaza Ali Khan

The legendary Italian actress Monica Vitti has passed away at the age of 90. In his tribute, Italy’s Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini said, “Goodbye Monica Vitti, goodbye queen of Italian cinema. Today is a truly sad day, we have lost a great artist and a great Italian.” Given her towering stature, Monica Vitti has been rightly described as the ‘Queen of Italian cinema’. In fact, she can also be described as a goddess in the pantheon of motion picture actresses. Her collaboration with the Italian master filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni resulted in masterworks like L'Avventura, L'Eclisse, La Notte, and Red Desert which helped revolutionize the world of cinema in the second half of the 20th century.

At a time when filmmakers from Italy were slowly drifting away from the norms of Italian Neorealism, which dominated Italian cinema during the ‘40s and the ‘50s, Michelangelo Antonioni was striving to develop a new filmmaking style that aimed to break away from a conventional narrative. And in Monica Vitti, Antonioni found the perfect leading lady— a glacial, icy blonde with an air of mystery and intrigue and picture perfect gait—for the kind of stories he wanted to tell, mostly revolving around the theme of social alienation, and in the experimental manner he wanted to tell them, slow-paced with disjointed narrative and marked by long takes. It resulted in arguably cinema’s most iconic director-actress collaboration alongside Josef von Sternberg-Marlene Dietrich.

Antonioni’s 1960 masterpiece L'Avventura became the perfect conduit to unleash Vitti’s charismatic aura which further solidified with films such as L'Eclisse (1961) and Red Desert (1964). Interestingly, when L'Avventura was first screened at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, it was booed by the audience. The harsh reception is said to have brought tears to Vitti’s eyes. But something miraculous happened the very next day as a campaign led by established filmmakers and writers declared that L'Avventura was the best movie to be screened at Cannes. After a second screening, the film went on to win the Jury Prize and Vitti shot to international fame overnight.

After her relationship with Antonioni ended in the year 1967, Vitti starred in several comedies made by other directors such as Mario Monicelli’s The Girl With a Pistol (1968), Jean Valère’s The Scarlet Lady (1969) Ettore Scola’s The Pizza Triangle (1970), Carlo Di Palma’s Teresa the Thief (1973), among others. A year later she starred in the Spanish master filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s surrealist masterpiece The Phantom of Liberty (1974).


During the 1980s, Monica Vitti continued to star in comedies made by the likes of Roberto Russo, Sergio Corbucci, Marco Vicario, Alberto Sordi, and Mario Monicelli. She collaborated with Antonioni one last time on The Mystery of Oberwald (1980). In the year 1990, she made her directorial debut with Secret Scandal. In 1995, Vitti was awarded a Career Golden Lion Award at the Venice film festival for her lifetime contribution to cinema. During her illustrious career, Vitti won 5 David di Donatello Awards, 7 Italian Golden Globes for Best Actress as well as the Career Golden Globe.

Vitti's death brings us to the end of a long line of actresses whose work helped establish cinema as one of the most important art forms of the 20th century. So, it’s truly the end of an era.

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