Cannes: Sophia Loren Wows Crowd With Glamour, Humor: `I Had A Pretty Good Career’

Cannes got a dose of REAL movie star glamour over the past two days when the legendary Sophia Loren came to town for a special screening of her new film, The Human Voice Tuesday night at Salle du Soixantieme and a two hour “Master Class” at the Bunuel on Wednesday afternoon. The film, based on the Jean Cocteau play and basically a one woman show finding her running a gamut of emotions while on the phone, is a 25-minute short directed by son Edoardo Ponti that gives the 79-year-old actress one of her meatiest and most emotional roles in years, a real reminder that once a star, always a star. It preceded a stunning 50th anniversary 4K restoration premiere of 1964’s wonderful Marriage Italian Style, one 14 collaborations with director Vittorio De Sica and co-starring 12-time leading man Marcello Mastroianni. The film brought Loren her second (and last) Best Actress Oscar nomination, and it still holds up today. The audience gave her a 5-minute ovation at the end of the short , and again at the end of the feature, moving her, from my vantage point directly across the aisle,  to tears. I asked her how she felt about watching the two performances — performed a half-century apart — and she had one word: “Beautiful”. The capacity crowd ate it all up, and watching Loren watch Loren was an experience you only could get in Cannes. I wouldn’t be surprised if next year Human Voice turns up as an Oscar nominee for Live Action Short. It is beautifully made.

Considering the fact that she has been an international star now for 60 years (her breakthrough role was in De Sica’s 1954 The Gold Of Naples) it’s surprising how shy she still is. Yet that is how Cannes Fest guru Thierry Fremaux described her as he made an introduction Wednesday at her Master Class, which was basically an interview about her career and select film clips. He said she was “terrified” but you would never know it, and despite some technical snafus and a moderator who seemed to be jumping all over the place,

she seemed not only relaxed, but charming and with a razor sharp memory of her movies and co-stars. And what  co-stars: Gable. Grant. Sinatra. Peck. Newman. Brando. Sellers. Heston. O’Toole, Wayne and so many others, right up to Daniel Day Lewis in 2009’s Nine,  in which she played his mother. She said she considers him the

greatest actor living now and accepted the small role just to work with him. But it was Mastroianni (who died in 1996 at age 72) who brought her to tears again. She had to compose herself when speaking of him, especially when noting the official 2014 Cannes poster (which is everywhere and  has an iconic photo of him as the image of this year’s fest). “Marcello is in my heart, and when I came here today and walked the red carpet there was a beautiful picture of Marcello Mastroianni. I knew then he would be here with me as I did this Master Class,”  she said, wiping away the tears and apologizing for getting emotional. They made 12 films together, including 1977’s A Special Day, which was part of the clip package and a movie Loren called one of her two greatest. The other, of course, was 1961’s Two Women, which made her the first actor or actress to ever win an Oscar for a foreign language performance. The clip shown with co-star Jean Paul Belmondo was actually the French version of the film, for which Loren had dubbed her own Italian into perfect French. She speaks several languages, she said and actually did the Master Class alternating between Italian and French.

Loren recalled that she skipped the 1962 Oscar ceremony, again due to her own surprising insecurity. “I was almost afraid of winning. I thought if I won I would faint, so I didn’t go. It was a long, long night and we thought that by 6AM in Italy everything was done and we hadn’t heard. We went to bed. But then the phone rang and it was Cary Grant. ‘You won, Sophia! You won!’ he said. I did think I was going to faint but I said to myself,’No, I am a big girl and I just won an Oscar!’ I jumped up and down,” she recalled adding that that year she won a total of 21 awards for the role saying, her “bookshelf is full of prizes”. Later in the year she travelled to the U.S. where they had a special ceremony to give her that Academy Award, still one of the most historic wins for an actor. In 1963 she appeared on the show to present Best Actor to Gregory Peck, who returned the favor in 1991 when she was voted a second statuette, an Honorary Oscar saluting her career.

During the session she talked about her early days, including her Hollywood breakthrough role in 1957’s The Pride And The Passion, where she had to do dance a Flamenco, which she said she really couldn’t — and then had to film it in front of one of the world’s most famous Flamenco dancers, who was appearing in a small role in the scene. “Mamma Mia! That was impossible to do, but I got  through it,” she said as the clip was shown. Incredibly she said she never thought of herself as good looking when an audience member asked if beauty and talent went hand in hand in her career. “Beauty is not important. You have to be interesting and different from others. They tried to change me but I wouldn’t let them. They said my mouth was too wide, my nose was too long, I needed to straighten my teeth. I suffered because people said I wasn’t photogenic enough, but bit by bit it changed as cinematographers learned how to portray my face,”  she said in one of the understatements of all time.

There was talk of her late husband Carlo Ponti and also clips shown of A Countess From Hong Kong which was Charlie Chaplin’s last film, Arabesque, El Cid and some of her early films including Gold Of Naples, plus a great interview she did in French at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival (she’s been coming to Cannes on and off since starting out in the 50’s). These were vintage gems from a career still going strong even as she noted that she will turn 80 in September. Hard to believe. “I am counting the hours and the minutes now. You do that as you get to my age. But I am a happy person and now living a life that I like. I do believe the fact that I came here to Cannes this week was a real victory. It means you can start again with something new. I have a wish to continue to do things like this film with my son. Life is beautiful. You really need to try to do what you want by doing it even better,”  she said. She genuinely seemed to enjoy seeing the films shown here and watching those clips –moments in time with one of the greats.

“I had a pretty good career. I can still hardly believe it myself,”  she said, smiling.

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