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23 March 2013

Maria Roasio

Italian actress Maria Roasio (? - ?) appeared as a star of the Italian silent cinema of the late 1910's and early 1920's, in particular at the Ambrosio studio.

Maria Roasio
American Photocine-postcard by A.G.F.

Fresh And Natural Acting
Little is known about the personal life of Maria Roasio. She was born in Milan, but her birthyear is unknown. Her first part was in Febo Mari’s historical film Attila (1918) with Mari himself in the title role and produced by Ambrosio. Roasio played Onoria, the Roman woman who is given to him because he spared the destruction of Rome. But she kills him in their wedding night. The film came out in Italy in February 1918, during the First World War. Pier da Castello in the Italian magazine La vita cinematografica drew a comparison between Attila the Hun and Emperor Wilhelm II, who was considered as the culprit of the First World War and its massive slaughter. Da Castello indicated that Mari’s film appealed to the call of the government to make patriotic films. These must show audiences why the blood-shedding was necessary. He forgave Mari’s ‘playing’ with history. The British magazine Bioscope showed the same permissiveness in their 1918 review of Attila, justifying Mari’s spectacle but also its ideological warning against ‘barbarians’ then and now. Bioscope also praised the beauty of the two leading actresses, newcomer Roasio and Ileana Leonidoff as the sensual Bulgarian dancer Ildico – who according to Bioscope had been the real assassin of Attila. Roasio’s success led to star roles in several films by Ambrosio. In La cantoniera n. 13/Roadhouse no. 13 (1919, Luigi Maggi), she played an ex-circus girl, who becomes a signalman and prevents a train crash. One of the survivors is a sculptor, who takes her to the city, where she starts to blossom, causing the jealousy of the sculptor’s lover. In Champagne Caprice (1919, Achille Consalvi) the script was quite silly – about an orphan girl who proves to be a princess daughter and is abducted by a rich gypsy violin player who proves to be her father. The Italian press praised nevertheless the fresh and natural acting by Roasio, so contrasting with the Italian divas. Less fortunate was La Gibigianna (1919, Luigi Maggi) in which all actors, excluding the star Lucy SanGermano, were considered artificial and grotesque. Roasio played a supporting part in the film. Also Zavorra umana/Human Ballast (1919, Gustavo Zaremba de Jaracewsky), in which Roasio had the female lead opposite René Maupré, was condemned by the press because of its banal script and unfitting action scenes. Cuor di ferro e cuor d’oro/Heart of iron and heart of gold (1919, Luigi Maggi, Dante Capelli) was a classic sentimental story about two aristocratic families reconciling because of the love between two members of their families (Roasio and Angelo Vianello). In La farfalla della morte/The butterfly of death (1920, F.G. Viancini, Arturo Ambrosio jr.) Roasio is the rich bride of an entomologist who owns a poisonous exotic butterfly. Under the spell of an adventuress, her husband humiliates her in presence of his lover. The wife tries to commit suicide with the butterfly, but her sister saves the situation. In Sillabe ardenti/Burning Syllables (1920, Achille Consalvi) an ex-prostitute marries and has a child but her husband is informed about her past. When she swears on the head of her gravely ill child that he may die if she betrayed her husband, the child seems to die for real, but resuscitates (of course). In the social drama Gens nova (1920, Luigi Maggi), an aristocratic family unites with that of a farmer. After conflicts because of the pride and stiffness of the aristocracy and feelings of revolt and revenge by the farmers, the story ends with weddings and the message that nobility of labour counts more than aristocracy of the blood. The topic was quite sensible for 1919, a year full of political upheaval in Italy, so e.g. a scene with stones thrown through the window of the count’s villa was eliminated. In another social drama, Terra/Earth (1920, Eugenio Testa), a poor farmer’s family moves to town in hope of better gain, but misery strikes them and the family falls apart. The protagonist Viola (Roasio) is the only one to return to the countryside. The press was split: some thought it unfit for the cinema and wooden, others called it a genuine social drama, while one source remarked the film had been made quite incomprehensible because if the heavy cuts by the censor.

Maria Roasio
Italian postcard by G.B. Falci, Milano, no. 239.

Ideology in Silent Film
Social dramas continued for Maria Roasio in 1921 with Angeli e demoni/Angels and Demons (1921, Luigi Maggi), a miner’s drama about the daughter of an old miner (the angel) and an aggressive head of the miners (the demon). The film was praised for Roasio’s acting but also for the genuine image of work in the mines. The topic which also dealt with strikes, request of salary raises, accidents at work and cruel industrials, alarmed the censors. The whole part of a propagandist had to be eliminated from the film, plus a scene in which a miner was seen hurt by an explosion in the mines. Roasio played that year also in Il castello dei gufi/The castle of the Owls (1921, Max Sullivan), scripted by the future film director Augusto Genina and by Aldo De Benedetti. The story deals with a Russian scientist (Gustavo Serena), who lives in castle of owls where he keeps his niece Maria, supposedly mad, but the man is mad himself. A young, courageous man liberates the girl and punishes the uncle. Apart from a minor film, Il palazzo dei sogni/The Palace of Dreams (1921, Alessandro Rosenfeld), released in Italy only in 1923. Roasio’s main film of 1921 was Mara West (1921, Arturo Rosenfeld), written by Fantasio (Riccardo Artuffo). It is the by now well-known ideology in silent cinema and beyond that women cannot have a career and a happy married life as well. Young Maria leaves home, and becomes the acclaimed actress Mara West. A young actor helps her, they fall in love and have a child. When at the apex of her success, the man leaves the theatre and herself, returning to a normal life. He meets Mara’s sister and marries her, while broken hearted Mara continues her career. The press praised the script, realizing it was a well-known plot, but played out with convincing emotionality. In particular the press praised the scene in which Mara looks out and oversees the dawn of the city, with all the artificial light going out in the centre, connecting this to the end of her own relationship. Also another film scripted by Fantasio and starring Maria Roasio, La rondine/The swallow (1921, Gabriellino D’Annunzio), released in 1922, was praised by the Italian press. The film dealt with a girl who resembles a swallow and who warms the hearts of an old prince and three grandsons living in a cold and boring castle. As of 1922 Roasio’s films were less and less frequently produced. In 1922 she acted in only one film, Manolita (Guido di Sandro), released in 1923, for which the press praised the setting and Roasio’s acting. The plot resembled that of Sillabe ardenti: a poor girl haunted by her dark past, on the verge of being kicked out by her husband. Their little son and this time also the man’s mother provide a reconcilement. In 1923 Roasio played in Notte di tempesta/Stormy night (1923, Riccardo Cassano), shot in Sardinia. Il trittico di Bonnard/Bonnard's Triptych (1924, Mario Bonnard) was a triptych in which Roasio played in A morte/A death, the first part set in the Middle Ages. The press praised the film for is structure – it was the first Italian episode film without a clear thread uniting the different stories. Critics appreciated the upcoming child actor Marcella Sabattini and Rina De Liguoro in the second and third episode. In 1924 Roasio played in La bambola vivente/The living doll (1924, Luigi Maggi), a film designed to establish Roasio as star and launch a Maria Roasio film series, but all to no avail. In 1927 Roasio did a last attempt to revamp her career in I rifuti del Tevere/The Wasted of the Tiber (1927, G. Orlando Vassallo), in which Roasio starred with Raimondo van Riel, Franz Sala and Augusto Bandini. The title hinted at a popular section in the newspaper Il Tevere on Rome’s criminality. According to the press the film was quite successful, even if not being in the range of the kolossal films. What happened with Mario Roasio afterwards we don’t know. Rumour has it that Roasio was the mistress of Arturo Ambrosio. Her date of death is unknown as well. Maria Roasio had a sister Fernanda who also acted in Italian silent cinema in the early 1920's.

Maria Roasio
Italian postcard by Ed. Traldi, no. 634. Photo Pinto, Roma.

Sources: Vittorio Martinelli (Il cinema muto italiano, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1921-1922, 1923-1931), and IMDb.

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