A Woman in this World of Men
by Francis Joseph A. Cruz
In his scathing review of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), Roger Ebert laments that Isabella Rossellini is “degraded, slapped around, humiliated, and undressed in front of the camera.” Ebert, of course, had the image of Rossellini, her arms outstretched to reveal a naked body dirtied by stains of blood and tears, in mind.
Interestingly, in the documentary My Wild Life (2010), which preceded the discussion between critic and historian Peter Cowie and Rossellini, the esteemed model, actress and director pointed out her great affection towards Blue Velvet and how she collaborated with Lynch in making the now iconic scene one of the most evocative images of a woman in absolute resignation.
Rossellini, donning an elegant black dress and an enthusiastic smile, finally appeared after the film in front of an audience composed of fans, admirers and attendees of the Berlinale Talent Campus. Cowie began with a series of questions concentrating on Rossellini’s career in film, from acting to directing. Rossellini, in astute statements that were laced with subtle but effective humour, sensibly answered every question, revealing bits and pieces of her perceptions on acting, working with Lynch, Guy Maddin, and other filmmakers who influenced her. Replying to Cowie’s query regarding an observation that almost all of her characters are enigmatic, she said that “I am attracted to original minds,” revealing her to be a woman of very eclectic taste.
Modest in a way that is surprising given her experience and stature within the international film community, Rossellini recommended that one of the regrets she has in her life is that she only decided to accept jury positions in film festivals very recently. She explained that being in juries had been exceptionally educational for her, considering that she is required to watch several films, all with varying styles and narratives, each day. Previously prevented from accepting jury duties because she was preoccupied with raising her children, she suggested that “women have integrated into a man’s world but it is the man’s world that has to integrate into the traditional woman’s world. That is the next step.” The audience, nearly half of which were women, cheered her on.
Rossellini is hardly the degraded, slapped around, humiliated and undressed woman of Ebert’s review. In fact, she, notwithstanding all the trials in her life and the arguably questionable women she portrayed in various films, proves herself to be a bastion of female integrity in a world where man, or at the very least that male-centric perspective that has persisted through the ages, is king.
(First published here. Read more in the Berlinale Talent Press website)