Isabella Rossellini: From Red Carpet to Blue Velvet

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By Anthony Manero

Isabella Rossellini is the essence of European beauty. We have seen her live so many lives, the screen siren, the sultry seductress, the pained and crying eyes that could envelope the embers of history and fan the flames of hope. The ambassador of Lancome, the respected mother for a jewelry brand, the sensual actress, the Mediterranean goddess photographed by people named Helmut and Leibovtiz and draped across the pages of Vogue. We have seen her vulnerability in Blue Velvet. We have seen her immortalized fame rolled out like a red carpet to support network darlings like 30 Rock, Friends and Seinfeld. We have seen her blue label flesh posing for Madonna’s ‘Sex” and ‘Erotica’ and felt so transposed that we dare not ask ourselves if it was indeed as a part of a book or a video.

Rossellini once said that the reason of her life is ‘not to be the most beautiful woman in the world’ as if it is a difficult and daring undertaking that she will take a lifetime to not be able to accomplish.

On the eve of her 66th Birthday, we step back from the woman who cut her teeth in Rome and New York, bearing both Italian and American citizenship and recognize that her legend does not just belong to her and her immense body of work, be it artisan or the philanthropic. The ex-wife of Martin Scorsese and David Lynch has had an even greater director in her life, the father of Neo Realist cinema and the father of one Isabella Rossellini, Roberto Rossellini. The woman who would be such a sentinel for love and sex came from parents who were embroiled in affairs of the heart their whole lives, off screen as much as on.

“Dear Mr. Rossellini,I saw your films Open City and Paisan, and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who in Italian knows only “ti amo,” I am ready to come and make a film with you.”

Ingrid Bergman

With this letter began one of the best known love stories in film history, with Ingrid Bergman and Screenwriter and Director, Roberto Rossellini, both at the peak of their careers.

Their first collaboration was ‘Stromboli, terra di Dio’ (1950) (in the island of Stromboli, whose volcano quite conveniently erupted during filming). This affair caused a great scandal, (Bergman and Rossellini were both married to other people); This affair caused a huge scandal in the United States, where it led to Bergman being denounced on the floor of the United States Senate and Ed Sullivan refusing to have her on the show. The scandal intensified when Bergman became pregnant with Roberto Ingmar Rossellini. A week after the birth of their first child, they both divorced their respective spouses and Married in Mexico. Rossellini and Bergman had two more children, Isabella Rossellini (actress & model) and her twin, Ingrid Isotta. The couple would only stay together another seven years before another liaison would take them on to different paths.

On screen, Roberto Rossellini, had produced government propaganda shorts during World War II and was secretly affiliated with underground cinema. His film ‘Roma Città Aperta’ used documentary footage of anti-Facist activities, as did his later films.

Ingrid Bergman won three Oscars for her hearty body of work including the one and only Casablanca and would go on to be a muse for Alfred Hitchcock in such films as Notorious and Spellbound. Bergman and Rossellini are no longer with us and Rossellini has spent much of her time with near her twin sister in a display of fortitude for family.

Rossellini would go on to pay a tribute to her father in a Sundance Channel short film where she would play every role including her own mother, Ingrid. The film was entitled ‘My father is 100 years old’.

The model, actress and author is cinematic royalty not just for who she is but where she came from. Isabella Rossellini is the last lioness parading past the gates of the studio lots of a golden age of Hollywood that she never knew, but that she continues to keep alive with her own immense legend. If her aim is to not be the most beautiful woman in the world, many would see Isabella Rossellini as an immense failure.