Mariangela Melato

Mariangela Melato
Mariangela Melato

Mariangela Melato was born in 1941 in Milan.   She made her film debut in 1969 in Italian films.   In 1980 she made “Flash Gordon” and afterwards travelled to Hollywood to star opposite Ryan O’Neal in “So Fine”.   However she did not pursue a career in American movies but returned to Europe and resumed her career there. She died in 2013.

Her obituary by John Francis Lane in “The Guardian:

Mariangela Melato, who has died of pancreatic cancer aged 71, was one of Italy‘s most versatile and vivacious actresses, working in theatre and cinema with some of the leading directors of her time. She won international cult status for three films directed by Lina Wertmüller in which she co-starred with Giancarlo Giannini: The Seduction of Mimi (1972), Love and Anarchy (1973) and Swept Away (1974), in all of which the controversial Wertmüller mixed sex and politics. Melato had no qualms about submitting with great good humour to the sometimes humiliating situations and explicit dialogue inflicted on the two stars.

Those Wertmüller films made Melato well-known, but she liked to be recognised as an actor rather than a star. Born in Milan, she trained at the city’s Brera Academy. One of the first companies to sign her up was that of the playwright Dario Fo and his wife, Franca Rame, who gave her a part in Fo’s Seventh Commandment: Steal a Little Less. In 1967 Luchino Visconti cast Melato as one of the nuns in his Rome production of Giovanni Testori’s The Nun of Monza, which was closed by the censors.

Melato was more fortunate when she played Olimpia in Luca Ronconi’s adaptation of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso at the Spoleto festival in 1969, one of the most highly acclaimed theatrical events of the period. In 1970 she appeared in Rome in another Ronconi production, The Revenger’s Tragedy, but was not available for the overseas tour of Orlando Furioso because her screen career was beginning to take off. Her first film, an offbeat independent production, Thomas (1971), was one of the first horror fantasies by Pupi Avati.

While working with Ronconi she had met Wertmüller, who immediately recognised Melato’s natural comic potential and chose her to partner Giannini in The Seduction of Mimi. Mimi, a Sicilian, thinks he can escape from the mafia who control his home town. After emigrating to Turin, he gets a job at Fiat only because the mafia controls the unions there too. His only consolation is his passionate affair with a communist girl, played by Melato. In Love and Anarchy, Giannini was Tunin, a country bumpkin who comes to Rome to assassinate Mussolini and discovers that his cousin Salomé (Melato at her most scintillating) works in a brothel.

Melato did a musical comedy in Rome and made a film with a more seriously politically committed director, Elio Petri, La Classe Operaia Va in Paradiso (The Working Class Goes to Heaven, 1972), with Gian Maria Volonté as leading man. In Swept Away, she was a jet-setting snob shipwrecked with a communist sailor (Giannini). They end up on a desert island and begin an affair in which she enjoys becoming his slave. They exchange insults in strong language. When she accuses him of being vulgar, he replies: “In love there is no vulgarity. It’s a word invented by you bourgeois people!” Superbly filmed and acted, it was almost unbearably over the top. A 2002 remake directed by Guy Ritchie, and starring Madonna in the Melato role opposite Giannini’s son Adriano, was not a success.

Although Melato and Wertmüller remained close friends, Melato returned to more serious roles, appearing on stage in Euripides, Pirandello and Shakespeare, and for 10 years acting with the Teatro Stabile di Genova. She also appeared on television, most recently in the title role of a 2010 adaptation of Eduardo De Filippo’s Filumena Marturano, in which she gave a deeply moving performance.

She is survived by her sister, the actor Anna Melato.

• Mariangela Melato, actor, born 19 September 1941; died 11 January 2013

Her “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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