An Interview With Monica Bellucci

Monica Bellucci

 "I know that sometimes beauty has given me power" 

monica bellucci

Eighteen years ago, Gaspar Noé's film "Irreversible" was shown in Cannes. Many critics left the hall during the screening because the rape scene was too long, too drastic, the whole film too brutal - and because the reverse chronology of the narrative made the brutality appear even more wanton. So it became what is called a "scandal film".

Monica Bellucci played the victim, and of course, she still plays the role when Noé has now re-edited his film, or more precisely: turned the chronology upside down. Monica Bellucci was already a big star back then, since the thriller "Lügen der Liebe" (1996) and "The Magic of Malèna" (2000), she then played in the two "Matrix" sequels, she was Maria Magdalena in Mel Gibson's “The Passion of the Christ” and in the Bond film “Specter” (2015) the oldest of all Bond girls at the age of 51, which upgraded this type of role in one fell swoop.

Did it feel like a trip in a time machine to see yourself in "Irreversible" again?

It was a very interesting experience. The original film was about how time destroys everything. This new twist focuses on how time makes sure everything is revealed. Nothing can hide forever. The film feels like a resurrection leaving the past behind.

monica bellucci

How have you changed in the meantime?

When I made this film 18 years ago, I had no children. In the meantime, not only has my whole life changed, but also our whole society. The subject of the film had a completely different status back then. When I look at the generation of my daughters, they deal differently with sensitive issues because the rules of our culture are also changing. This allows women to address issues such as violence more directly. Basically, “Irreversible” is a feminist film that was made by a man. Because none of the men do very well in it.

How do you remember the reactions to the 2002 Cannes premiere?

Many people left the hall prematurely at the time, which meant that they could not understand the dimensions of the film. They completely lacked the poetry of the end. The intimacy between me and Vincent ...

... Cassel, your partner, and husband at the time ...

... can only be seen at the end of the film. A lot of people then missed that because they were overwhelmed with the violence in the first scenes. Nevertheless, the film managed to achieve cult status because many people understood and loved the film. Today you may understand it better than ever!

monica bellucci

Could that also be due to the #MeToo movement?

Absolutely. This movement has a lot to do with the issues we addressed with our film back then. I am convinced that films can change the world because they change a culture. You can get out of a movie as a new person. “Clockwork Orange” or “Blue is a warm color” are disturbing, painful, but also beautiful works. The same is true for “irreversible”. It sparked a public discussion that we urgently needed.

Is that thanks to director Gaspar Noé's chutzpah?

The film is of course polemical. But it is precisely such works that enable us to talk about important topics. With the new cut version, we can now see an even clearer duality of poetry and violence. Of course, the film is incredibly brutal, but it's also about love, friendship, relationships, intimacy, and birth. All of this has to be seen in the context of the fact that violence has always been used to dominate, humiliate, and sexually oppress. The film shows the beauty and monstrosity inherent in people.
Could the film have been made in this form today? It is becoming increasingly important not to expect actresses to perform too intense scenes. Or an “intimacy coordinator” stages the physical with great care.

monica bellucci

At that time I felt very safe and in good hands. I trusted the director and my play partner, and we rehearsed the scene in the tunnel where the robbery took place over and over again. Within this safe framework, my body was an object that I could use to achieve the effect I wanted. I always knew that I was an actress in this scene - it never felt real. Only reality makes such a moment violent. “Irreversible” was an intense, exciting experience for me personally and professionally. We had scenes that lasted almost twenty minutes - which is unusually long for a cinema!

How has this cinematic tour de force affected your relationship with Vincent Cassel?

We got a divorce immediately afterward (laughs). No, that was just a joke. In fact, it was a great experience. It was a lot easier to do intimate scenes because we were married. It would have been something completely different with a different colleague. I've never gone that far in a role, and I've never gone that far with any other actor. So I was very happy that the colleague was my husband.

What condition was you in after the particularly tough scenes?

I still remember wanting to be alone the day before the tunnel scene. Acting has a lot to do with preparation in the head. When you're ready, you feel like a gladiator entering the arena. I had to be particularly strong for this scene and gather my energy. That's why I wanted to be alone. When we were shooting, I knew exactly what to expect: I knew the entire sequence of movements, knew what I had to do. My colleague was of course just as well prepared so that nothing would happen. In the scene in which he hits me, every movement had to be just right. He didn't even touch me - but of course, you don't notice when you see the film.

How do you generally deal with difficult situations on set?

When shooting “Irreversible” there weren't any difficult situations, I have to say that again here. Of course, things don't always go smoothly on sets. Each film has a different experience, and each director has his own style. Some put great emphasis on rehearsals, others improvise. As an actress, of course, I think carefully about which film I want to star in, but the decision about a film is never made solely on a national level. Intuitive factors always play a role. You often only realize this in retrospect.

monica bellucci

What if you look back at your career?

For me, films like “Irreversible”, “The Magic of Malèna” and “The Passion of the Christ” were decisive. All of these films are about women in a man's world. They show the difficulties women face when surrounded by men.

Do you see yourself as a burden, a gift, or maybe even an obligation?

I know that beauty has given me power at times. At the beginning of my career, I wasn't exactly the best actress in the world. Francis Ford Coppola gave me a small role as a vampire bride in “Dracula” in 1992, that was the beginning and my big chance. I quickly realized that I have to sit on my back legs if I want to be independent of looks. For me, beauty is not a burden at all. Most importantly, it is not permanent because it will pass over time. And when the biological beauty, the beauty of youth, ends, it is replaced by inner beauty and wisdom.

Did and do you have scruples in nude scenes?

As an actor, you have to be generous. You only think of the film and the role, not of yourself. A month after the birth of my second daughter, I played in a film in which I was supposed to be the sexy woman, but was still far from in shape. I looked misshapen, I also nursed every few hours, and hardly slept at night! But I still think the film is beautiful, precisely because nothing is perfect and I also felt so vulnerable.

What appeals to you, when does a part attract you?

Roles that make me feel alive. Good stories. The material has to inspire me, it has to be something very special. I've made so many genre films like “Pact of the Wolves” or the Bond film “Specter”. Now I prefer to jump back and forth a bit.

You could only star in big studio productions like the Bond films. Instead, you can often be seen in projects by unknown directors. Out of artistic generosity?

No, no, no, these are great films too! The budget is not the decisive factor for me. I am so lucky to work with such talented artists as Bahman Ghobadi. His "Season of the Rhinoceros" was a very interesting and powerful film. There may not be big money in it, but big art! Bahman is a great director, the team came from Tehran and was fresh, full of energy, and curious. It also gave me the opportunity to get to know Iranian colleagues. You are just great.

Can a director convince you even more than a project?

Of course, directors like David Lynch and Sam Mendes are masters of their craft! But I'm also trying harder to work with women directors, I've had the honor of shooting with four wonderfully talented women who have made great films. But the roles are just as important to me. For example, four years ago I had a fantastic time while shooting a series of “Mozart in the Jungle”. It wasn't a big movie, but it was incredibly enriching for me.

How much attention do you need as an artist?

Actors need admiration, a bit like children. But I don't always have to be the center of attention. I am in love with my job and like to let myself be carried away by passion. Sometimes I become a victim of passion, which can also be painful. But pain also makes me feel alive.

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