Francesca Bertini: Ahead of Her Time


Francesca Bertini was born Elena Seracini Vitiello in Florence in 1892. She relocated with her family to Naples when she was a child. There, she began working in local theater productions. Then at the age of 16, she moved to Rome to focus on her career as a professional actress. After nearly a decade of working in theater, she landed her first movie role in Baldassarre Negroni’s 1913 production of Histoire d'un pierrot. Bertini plays the role of Pierrot, a young girl led into a life of drinking and gambling by the local wine merchant. A fascinating aspect is the set design, which reflects the typical Italian style of the early 20th century. Bertini is absolutely radiant. The role launched her career as an internationally acclaimed actress. 

Her follow-up, Assunta Spina, is a 1915 silent film with a melodic soundtrack and stunning shots of the Bay of Naples. Filmmakers Francesca Bertini and Gustavo Serena created a timeless story of love, passion and envy. They also captured images of Naples that are surprising clear for being shot 100 years ago.

In addition to her leading role, Bertini contributed to the script and casting. “It had been my idea to wander around Naples taking ordinary people from the streets. Now everyone’s invented Neorealism! The real Neorealist film is Assunta Spina," recalled 90-year-old Bertini in a 1982 interview. 

Noteworthy is the cinematography, which was done by the senior Vittorio Storaro, father of the renowned cinematographer Vittorio Storaro known for his work on the films of today's great directors Bernardo Bertolucci and Francis Ford Coppola just to name a few.

Assunta Spina is available for purchase through Cineteca Bologna. However, you must have an Italian identification number, codice fiscale, to make the purchase. Otherwise, the film is available to watch on YouTube.

Her last role was Sister Desolata in Bernardo Bertolucci's 1976 epic Novecento (1900), the story of two friends as they struggle through five decades of dividing forces in Italian society. It's been said that Bertolucci worked hard to convince Bertini to come out of retirement for the part. Nine years later, Bertini passed away at the age of 93.

Originally shot as a six-part series for Italian television, the DVD/Streaming version was edited to 5 hours.

It's important that we keep alive the work of pioneer women in film like Francesca Bertini. Although their works are now considered "old cinema", these filmmakers were the contemporary trailblazers of their time. Their hard work and sacrifices helped pave the way for their contemporary counterparts of today.