Catherine Spaak, a romantic and strong-willed icon of an era

The actress died yesterday at the age of 77

There was a time, before the revolution, when no one was like Catherine Spaak. There had been Jacqueline Sassard, the first of the nymphets, Lolita ante litteram, the middle-class teenager struggling with the first heart problems. And there would be, a few years later, Stefania Sandrelli, the same age but never really a girl, an object of male desire but capable of calibrating humor and passion. But none, really none, was like Catherine Spaak (who died yesterday, April 17, at the age of 77). No one like her has embodied the joys and pains of adolescence, malice and naivety, provocation and naturalness, candor and sensuality.

Bourgeois, indeed very bourgeois (daughter of Charles, screenwriter for Renoir, Duvivier, Grémillon and very “cinéma de papa”), French yet Belgian allure (uncle Paul-Henri was prime minister), in 1960 she was chosen by her family friend Alberto Lattuada – formerly Sassard’s pygmalion – for ‘I dolci inganni’, a super censored coming of age that testifies to the resonances of the nouvelle vague at the apex of our production. It was – is – a capital film, ‘The sweet deceptions’, because it revealed the secret life of girls of good family, investigated their sentimental disturbances, told the adventure of a desirable body that finally discovers itself the active subject of a desire. .

Unripe and curious, straightforward and aware, romantic and strong-willed, Catherine Spaak reassured because she moved the origin of the turmoil to exotic places, that is, beyond the Alps where the customs were more uninhibited, not like in Italy still suspended between rurality and signs of boom, and to the at the same time he was disturbing because he lent his jaunty image to a generation of Italian girls who recognized themselves in his desire to emancipate themselves. Thereafter, Spaak truly became an icon of an entire era, a model to emulate to connect on the frequencies of a changing world, an example to follow against the conventions imposed by adults that had annihilated the right to imagination and the need for to break free. She dictated the fashion, imposed the blond bob, cleared the irregular smile. She put her sons, her children and above all her parents in crisis, like Vittorio Gassman who made her her father (absent) in ‘Il sorpasso’. And the moment in which she, on the beach, she tries an approach by not recognizing her is subtly disturbing and really offers an exhaustive interpretation of the protagonist.

In ‘Il surpasso’, Spaak appears after the half, yet bursts into the poster as if he were more present than he actually is. But Bruno Cortona’s daughter is a decisive character to understand the whole story: she is the embodied failure of her father, she gets engaged to an older man for an obvious and dramatic reason, she treats Bruno as a nice but irrecoverable scoundrel, she lights up the day of Roberto (Jean-Louis Trintignant) to show him an alternative way to the established order.

What about ‘The mad desire’, in which, at the age of eighteen, he disrupts the life of forty-year-old Ugo Tognazzi, accompanying him to the abyss of the crisis. And how can we forget ‘Boredom’: no ​​one like her has embodied the Moravian universe, advancing by spreading sex, lying on the bed covered with banknotes in an image that has remained legendary.

With ‘La parmigiana’, Antonio Pietrangeli gave her the role of life: flirtatious and pragmatic, light and sensual, provincial and international, in a bigoted and greedy Italy she knows what she wants even if she doesn’t know it well, she trusts and yet stumbles but however he is not indignant, he tries to get up every time despite everything and in the most questionable ways, he fights with the males while he loves them or simply makes himself loved. In a masculine and male-centered cinema, an episodic film just for her is conquered (‘3 nights of love’), alternating author’s singularity (the cursed and splendid ‘Break up’ by Marco Ferreri, the bizarre and unsolved ‘Non I make war, I make love ‘by Franco Rossi) and super productions (the masterpiece’ L’armata Brancaleone ‘by Mario Monicelli,’ Madamigella di Maupin ‘by Mauro Bolognini), forming a partnership with the cultured and popular Pasquale Festa Campanile , from ‘The husband is mine and I’ll kill him when I want’ to ‘Adulterio all’italiana’ up to ‘With what love’, with what love is ‘The matriarch’, an irresistible sixty-eight comedy in which she is a nice and casual erotomaniac who finds herself progressively more and more naked, revealing inexperience more than purity, aware that the body belongs to her but the heart also has its reasons.

Cultured, acute, brilliant, able to measure herself with musical comedy (alongside her then partner Johnny Dorelli she triumphs in ‘Promesse … Promesse …’, written by Garinei and Giovannini, singing the excellent Italian adaptation of ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again ‘), not even thirty years old had already grown up, but still leaves its mark in’ Sure, very sure, indeed … probable ‘,’ The nine-tailed cat ‘,’ The way of the baboons’, ‘Horse fever’.

She became the mistress of the television salons, with an unparalleled kindness and charm, and attended fiction, sweetly. Today that she is no longer there, we like to remember her as the very embodiment of youth, at that moment, before the revolution, in which no one was like her, while she complains, lazy and erotic, with the mad desire to live again: ” What anger, summer is over ”.