Isabella Rossellini is one of my favorite actresses. Her acting choices are often off-beat and quirky, which makes her one of those actresses who cannot be defined. She has made over eighty film and television appearances. She is, of course, best known for her work with David Lynch, and is remarked for her beauty (and being the daughter of Ingrid Bergman). I think it’s a shame that she is very much overlooked as one of the best actresses of her generation, but her resume is really remarkable.
In honor of her birthday, I’ve put together a list of what I think are some of her best performances.
Blue Velvet (1986)-Dorothy Vallens
A cult classic. The film established David Lynch’s unique style and themes that would appear in much of his film throughout his career as a filmmaker and writer. Rossellini’s performance as Dorothy Vallens, the tragic femme fatale of the film, is an awesome sight. Her performance is heavy, hazy, lush, her presence, reminiscent of noir films.
Il Prato (1979)-Eugenia
Il Prato is not a film that is very well-known here in the states. The film is about a love triangle with the typical backdrop of most Italian films of the 70s that often focused on themes of sex, love, death and politics. Rossellini plays Eugenia, a young, beautiful woman who works in a tax office and moonlights as a street performer. It’s one of Rossellini’s first films, and I think one of her most genuine because she comes off as very insecure in her performance which adds to the depth and realness of the character she is playing. It’s also difficult not to notice how beautiful she is in the film, similar to her mother, actress Ingrid Bergman. She is a magnet for the camera.
Immortal Beloved (1994)-Anna Marie Erdody
Rossellini’s performance is charming and expressive amongst this fittingly magnificent and chaotic production about composer Ludwig Van Beethoven’s life. Gary Oldman steals the show as Beethoven, but Rossellini’s performance adds a lovely touch to the film. She works brilliantly against Oldman’s eccentric and frenzied performance and the two actors complement each other. I have always thought it sad that they haven’t worked together on more projects.
The Saddest Music In The World (2003)-Lady Helen Port-Huntley
Rossellini plays Lady Helen Port-Huntly, an amputee and beer tycoon who holds a contest to find the saddest music in the world. It’s an eccentric film and the dialogue is a bit tired at times, but it is inventive and unique in its originality and storytelling structure. It’s also one of those movies that I’ve always felt would’ve worked better as a silent film, but then the viewer wouldn’t get to hear the film’s great soundtrack. Rossellini has a knack for making the most out of her roles when she is in an ensemble. She is an actress who excels at subtlety, and is able to give a memorable performance without being hackneyed or doing too much.
Before the 2011 BBC series, there was a TV movie of the same name made thirteen years prior, produced by NBC Television in 1998. The TV movie had one of the most amazing acting ensembles assembled; Sam Neill, Helena Bonham Carter, John Gielgud, Miranda Richardson, James Earl Jones, Ruter Hauer, Martin Short, and Lena Headey. Rossellini plays Nimue, Merlin’s (Neill) love interest, who is beautiful and understanding of Merlin’s distress with his fate as a magician, but encourages him to pursue is fate when she reveals to him how his talents can help save his people. Once again, Rossellini excels in another rich ensemble and the camera is intrigued by her. Her acting is passionate, in part to the great script, the chemistry between herself and Neill, as well as the sweeping backdrop of England and Wales. The film itself is lush and beautiful, much like Rossellini, and the special effects are fun and entertaining.
Death Becomes Her (1992)-Lisle Von Rhuman
I watch this movie at least once a year, and it is in my top ten guilty pleasure films. Rossellini plays a sorceress whose potions are a fountain of youth for her clients. She evokes Cleopatra as she is surrounded by fierce-looking Dobermans and muscular foot men. Rossellini’s performance is definitely camp, but the entire film knows what it is and the actors (especially Meryl Streep!) have fun with it.