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Saturday, January 8, 2022

Luisa Ranieri: A Contemporary Classic

Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Hand of God” has advanced to the short list in the 2022 Oscar race. The film is available stateside on Netflix. One of the stars of the film is actress Luisa Ranieri as the eccentric, troubled Aunt Patrizia.

Luisa Ranieri

Born in Naples in 1973, Ranieri hit the ground running, finding her break out film just two years after starting her acting career. That project, a made for television movie on the life of Maria Callas in which she played the starring role, immediately made her one of the country’s most popular actresses.

After numerous supporting roles in both television and film, Ranieri scored the title role in Lodovico Gasparini’s 2016 miniseries “Luisa Spagnoli,” giving her another opportunity to portray a deeply complex character. The film follows the trailblazing entrepreneur who created the Perugina chocolate brand as well as a popular clothing line that still bears her name. 

“I was born poor like you and know how hard life can be.” That inspiring line was part of her speech to rally the female employees who were left to run her candy factory after the men were called upon to fight World War I. Spagnoli revolutionized the role of women in the workplace, providing them comprehensive benefits, allowing them to bring their children to work and offering them paid time to nurse their babies. After the men returned from the war, the women remained in their positions. The series also focuses on Spagnoli’s romantic life and sheds light on her love affair with pasta magnate Giovanni Buitoni. 

Luisa Ranieri as Luisa Spagnoli
Ranieri wholeheartedly embraces Spagnoli’s outgoing personality, courage and infinite creativity as she juggles running a business with being a wife and mother of three during the early 1900s. She radiates pride in portraying Spagnoli and takes command of every scene. Enchanting sets and a whimsical soundtrack, along with outstanding supporting performances by Antonello Fassari and Gianmarco Tognazzi, also play their parts in making the series both entertaining and informative.

At the other end of the spectrum is Fausto Brizzi’s 2016 comedy “Forever Young,” which tracks a group of friends and acquaintances ranging in age from 49-70 who can’t accept getting older. Ranieri plays Sonia, a 40-something single mother who advises her hairstylist, Angela (Sabrina Ferilli), to date a younger man. When Angela takes her advice, the two are not so pleasantly surprised to discover the young man is Sonia’s 19-year-old son. Ranieri shows off her talent for comedy while lending her character an introspective side. The film was a huge hit in Italy and features an exceptional cast delivering superb performances.  

"The Music of Silence"
Ranieri is also moving in a rare English-language role as the mother of the main character in “La musica del silenzio” (The Music of Silence). Directed by Michael Radford (“Il postino”) and based on Andrea Bocelli’s autobiography of the same name, the 2017 biopic delves into the Italian tenor’s life, from the loss of his eyesight to his love of music and rise to stardom. The main character of the film is Amos, the name Bocelli would have chosen for himself, as he explains at the outset.

Ranieri’s natural empathy comes through as she conveys the heartbreak of having to teach her son, with tough love at times, to be strong and make his way through a world filled with darkness. Ennio Fantastichini is wonderful in the role of a loving and outgoing uncle who urges Amos to embrace music, opera in particular. A beautiful soundtrack that includes Bocelli’s captivating voice accompanies much of the film.

Ranieri is married to fellow actor Luca Zingaretti, who is best known for his lead role in the popular television series “Inspector Montalbano.” The couple met on the set of Riccardo Milani’s 2005 miniseries “Cefalonia.” They have two children.

All the aforementioned works are available to stream on Amazon. “The Hand of God”  is available on Netflix. Click on the titles for direct links to stream them. The forceful performances, detailed set designs and excellent production values speak to the high quality of films coming out of Italy today and to why so many contemporary Italian films are available in the United States.

-Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the January 2022 issue of Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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