Foreign films are a guilty pleasure in my household. Among them are some of the greats Ameile, Cinema Paradiso, 8 ½, and The Leopard (II Gattopardo). The last two films mentioned above are sentimental to me, not only because they are award winning classics, but because they introduced me to my favourite International actress.
Claudia Cardinale was destined to be someone else (school teacher) and never set out to become an actress. She was discovered after she unintentionally won a beauty contest in Tunisa and the prize was a trip to the Venice film festival. Apparently, she was pushed out onto the stage and the rest they say is history.
From very early on in her career she was surrounded by some of Europe’s great film makers such as Fellini, Leone and Visconti She also bumped shoulders with many of the greats. Everyone just simply wanted be around her, including actors like Marlon Brando, who seemingly tried to seduce her, but was politely told to “get lost”.
Once considered Italy’s answer to Brigitte Bardot, she has survived 60 years in an industry that wasn’t always kind to women. Her first significant contract strictly controlled her career and life. She married her producer, Franco Cristaldi, who forbid her to cut her hair, she wasn’t allowed to put on weight and all her movies were also chosen by him. She was even forced to tell the world’s media that her son Patrick, which she gave birth to in her late teens, as a result of being raped by a mysteries older Frenchman, was her younger brother. Her domineering husband decided that her son would live with her family, unaware that Claudia was in fact his real mother. Claudia wouldn’t reveal this secret until many years later. Eventually she would also divorce and escaped the clutches of her former husband.
Throughout all her ordeals, she has carried herself with grace and modesty, for the whole of her life. She once said that “cinema saved her life” and had given her a reason to aspire to greater things and help those in need, particular young women. She has been quoted as saying that: “…it is with passion and dedication that I will be attentive to the needs of women and fight relentlessly for their rights.”
This is no more evident than her work that she does as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the Defense of Women’s Rights. She is also a political liberal who has fought for feminist ideals and gay rights.
Today she is a veteran of over 130 movies predominately European and a handful of notable Hollywood films such as The Pink Panther, The Professionals and Once upon a Time in the West.
Photo Credits: The header image is Claudia Cardinale in the Italian film Girl With a Suitcase (1961). The image of Claudia Cardinale along side Alain Delon in The Leopard (1963) is courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. I make use of the images under the rational of fair use to highlight an example of Claudia Cardinale’s celebrated film career. It also enables me to makes an important contribution to the readers understanding of the article, which could not practically be communicated by words alone.