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Showbiz Today Star of Tomorrow
NEW YORK (CNN) -- She's been called the Sophia Loren of her generation, an Italian actress who brings startling beauty and raw talent to the screen.
Monica Belucci, though, isn't so quick to agree with her admirers. She's just happy, the 32-year-old model and actress says, to be working.
In "Malena," Bellucci plays the title role of a woman who becomes the object of a young boy's adolescent fixation and voyeurism. The year is 1942, the place Castelcuto, a village in Sicily; the world is at war, and society in Castelcuto is in turmoil. Through it walks the lovely Malena, trailed by boys on bicycles and the lingering glances of the village's men.
Bellucci was born in Perugia, Italy, and has worked steadily in Europe for the past decade. She's been a virtual unknown in the United States until "Malena"'s release last year.
Bellucci recently spoke with CNN.
CNN: How do you perceive your role in "Malena"?
Monica Bellucci: The story is about a woman who ... is left alone in this small village where everything, and everyone, is run by men. So she's confronted with this male-dominated society, where all the men desire her as an object -- as an animal -- except this young boy who's in love with her and wants to protect her from all the terrible things that happen to her during and after the war.
CNN: There seems to be an interesting parallel between the character of Malena and your life. Would you agree with that?
Bellucci: I would agree, and I can understand Malena for this reason, because I come from a small place. I know what it means to come from a place where everybody knows everybody, and when you walk down the street and men look at you, and the women can be jealous of you. So I know the feeling.
And on the other hand we are very different, because Malena is the product of her era, and I'm the product of mine. This means that I fought all my life to be free and independent. I never wanted to depend on men; and Malena, she doesn't have any identity without men. ...To understand the film, we have to understand the Sicilian mentality of that time, because the woman's place was only as mother or as wife. They only existed for men, and that's why women in the village hated her, and resented her, because she provoked men's desire by being herself.
I think this film is not just a big portrait of a Sicilian village in the '40s, or a portrait of beauty. I think it's a portrait of envy, and how envy can destroy other relationships between human beings.
CNN: Your character, Malena, had very little dialogue.
Bellucci: Yeah. ...If you play piano, you have a piano. If you play guitar, you have a guitar. And if you are an actor, your instrument is your body. You use your body: your face, your hands and your eyes.
CNN: People are talking about you as if you are a new actress, yet you're not really new at all. You've been doing film and television in Europe for many years, correct?
Bellucci: Yes, I've done mostly French films, but they never were released in America, like "Le Pacte des Loups" ("Brotherhood of the Wolf," 2000). It was a very good film, and did so well all over in Europe. ...And through this movie I did "Under Suspicion" (2000), with Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman. And for me that was a great chance to work with two of the greatest actors in the world.
CNN: Is it odd for you to hear people calling you a relatively new actress?
Bellucci: Oh no, I mean, (this) is normal. America and Europe are completely different. I know that I'm lucky, because it doesn't happen very often that an Italian movie actress can have a career here. ...I'm very happy to come here with an Italian film, because it's my own identity. And also, I'm European, and I will keep doing European movies, but I also love American movies. I don't want to make an "American" movie; I want to make a good movie. Then, if it's American or European, it doesn't matter.
CNN: At one time you were studying to be a law student. How did you come to acting?
Bellucci: I started as a model, and when I was student I thought I could study and work at same time. And then I started to work so (much) that I left the university. ...Frances Ford Coppola saw me in a picture, and I did "Dracula" (1992's "Bram Stoker's Dracula"), and I was still a model, in some way. So I went back to Europe, I took acting lessons, and I worked a little bit in Italy. Then I went to France, and I've done few movies there. So, life is so strange: You want to be a lawyer, you want to be a doctor, and then life decides for you.
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