With her cheerful personality and characteristic delicately direct ways, Giovanna Ralli is one of the most significant figures in post-war Italian cinema. This genuinely beautiful actress entered the world of film sets as a little girl, amidst the hardships of wartime, and then made her way into the Italian national imagination right up to the era of television dramas, maintaining a profile that was as understated as it was determined, solid when portraying her characters and capable of bravely challenging herself.
She was still a little girl from the Roman working-class district of Testaccio when, in the middle of wartime difficulties, she was, for example, an unaware witness to the harbinger of Neorealism, working on the set of The Children Are Watching Us by De Sica (in which, apparently, little Marcello Mastroianni was also present), as one of the children playing in the playground in one scene. Giovanna Ralli was to find herself many other times alongside De Sica, when she had become a young lady with bright eyes and a clear smile, with a beauty award under her belt (“Miss Sorriso Lazio”, an award for best smile: and her smile truly knows how to assert itself) and a career on the way to success, built on the portrayal of the type of neighbourhood girl from Rome, simple and down-to-earth but also aware of her beauty.
Giovanna Ralli owes her true initiation to Aldo Fabrizi, who cast her as Marcella, the daughter of his Cavalier Valenzi in The Passaguai Family and its two sequels. That was the true moment when cinema became something real for the actress, the possibility of expressing herself and moving forward, a job that, as she once said, “makes me live, makes me read more, improve inwardly, know more about life, understand others more readily”. This attitude evidently allowed her to be appreciated and led her to share the screen with all the great exponents of Italian cinema, working with Alberto Sordi, Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi and later Franco Nero and Tomas Milian. She has been directed by the filmmakers who have marked the history of Italian cinema, from Rossellini to Emmer, from Zurlini to Scola and Corbucci, and in theatre by Garinei and Giovannini, alongside Renato Rascel. For her Sergio Amidei, one of the most important screenwriters of Italian cinema, wrote roles that proved fundamental in defining her character, both in the cheerful phase of the 1950s (Easy Years, The Bigamist) and in the turning point of the 1960s, when Rossellini chose her for General Della Rovere, Escape by Night and Garibaldi, and Carlo Lizzani in It’s a Hard Life, and also when Giovanna Ralli bravely accepted to portray, opposite Anouk Aimée, a Sapphic love in Paolo Spinola’s The Escape. This was a decade in which the actress allowed herself to be more nuanced and embodied very well an idea of femininity that was being modernised in parallel with the new customs the country was adopting. So much so that, in his magnificent generational portrait of the Italian nation, We All Loved Each Other So Much, Ettore Scola chose her for the significant role of Elide, the daughter of an unscrupulous parvenu contractor with fascist nostalgia who becomes the wife of Gianni, an upstart lawyer played by Vittorio Gassman.
Giovanna Ralli is an actress that occupies the heart of Italian cinema with a down-to-earth attitude: “I have not become a star, I am a professional. A star lasts five or ten years. I would like to work until sixty”, she said in an interview in 1970. And she succeeded, because she has crossed the history of Italian cinema (not without a foray in Hollywood, where she worked with Blake Edwards, Michael Caine, George Peppard, Raf Vallone) always remaining a figure that showed her character. She offered herself serenely to the imagination of a country that was struggling to come to terms with the post-war changes. Among the ladies of Italian cinema, Giovanna Ralli remains a figure that has been able to assert herself with the immediacy and simplicity originating from her way of presenting herself on the scene: genuine and frank, vehement and heart-felt in the spontaneous way of portraying her characters arising from her commoner origin. But she was also naturally elegant, when necessary. Giovanna Ralli was able to portray the transition of the Italian woman from the values of a lower-class neighbourhood dimension, when her characters struggled, with joy after all, with the daily difficulties of the late post-war period, to the bourgeois evolution of the 1960s, in which she sacrificed her origin to the newly acquired elegance of a more self-aware femininity. And then she went on to mature into a figure that was able to be consistent first with the stylistic features of the more problematic and conflicting imagery of the Seventies, and then with the simplification adopted in the Eighties.
Born in Rome and grown up in the working-class neighbourhood of Testaccio, Giovanna Ralli was only six when, in order to help her family overcome the difficulties of the war period, she began making short appearances in films such as The Children Are Watching Us by Vittorio De Sica (1943). At the age of just fifteen, after winning the beauty contest Miss Sorriso Lazio, she came back to working in cinema with short appearances in films such as The Lights of Variety (1950) by Alberto Lattuada and Federico Fellini or The Passaguai Family (1951), in which Aldo Fabrizi chose her to play the role of the main character’s daughter, and then wanted her again in the other two films of the series. These first acting experiences were followed in the 1950s by a series of films in which she portrayed the typical lively and impulsive Roman commoner girl. She did so alongside Nino Taranto in Easy Years (1953) by Luigi Zampa, with Vittorio De Sica in the third episode of It Happened in the Park (1953) by Gianni Franciolini, she then played one of the girls in The Girls of San Frediano (1955), which Valerio Zurlini adapted from Pratolini’s novel, Mario Monicelli cast her in A Hero of Our Times (1955), Luciano Emmer chose her for both The Bigamist (1956) and The Most Wonderful Moment (1957). After a successful foray into entertainment theatre, including in 1957 with Renato Rascel in Un paio d’ali by Garinei and Giovannini, the turning point for Giovanna Ralli came thanks to Roberto Rossellini, who took her away from the comedy world to immerse her in a more solid dramatic dimension in films such as General Della Rovere (1959), Escape by Night (1960) and Garibaldi (1961). These were more defined roles, which prestigiously flanked her performances in more successful films such as Wildcats on the Beach (1959) by Vittorio Sala, My Wife’s Enemy (1959) by Gianni Puccini and the musical film Nel blu dipinto di blu (1959) by Piero Tellini with Domenico Modugno. In the early 1960s, one of the landmark directors of Italian cinema, Carmine Gallone, chose her as the main character in his two latest films The Nun of Monza and Carmen di Trastevere (both released in 1962), but it was in 1964 that Giovanna Ralli successfully explored new paths which gave new impetus to her career. So we find her in It’s a Hard Life, adapted by Carlo Lizzani from Bianciardi’s novel, in the third episode of Let’s Talk About Women by Ettore Scola, and above all in a love liaison with Anouk Aimée’s character in The Escape by Paolo Spinola, a bold role in an age in which female homosexuality was not an easy topic to approach in cinema, which earned her her first Silver Ribbon award as Leading Actress. Invited by Blake Edwards to Hollywood to star in What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966), Giovanna Ralli tried the path of American cinema, acting in films such as The Caper of the Golden Bulls (1967) by Russell Rouse and Deadfall (1968) by Bryan Forbes. In the meantime, Sergio Corbucci wanted her in his spaghetti western The Mercenary (1968) and, after permanently coming back to Italy, she starred for Italo Zingarelli in A Prostitute Serving the Public and in Compliance with the Laws of the State (1970). She then explored the genres of Italian-style crime movie and “poliziottesco” (typical Italian detective story) in films such as Cold Eyes of Fear (1971) by Enzo G. Castellari and What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974) by Massimo Dallamano. In the same year, Ettore Scola cast her in the ensemble film We All Loved Each Other So Much, thanks to which she won her second Silver Ribbon, this time as Best Supporting Actress. In the second half of the 1970s, Giovanna Ralli took part in comedies of manners such as To Love Ophelia (1974) by Flavio Mogherini and Colpita da improvviso benessere (1975) by Franco Giraldi. In 1977 she returned to the stage under the direction of Garinei and Giovannini in Fra un anno alla stessa ora and, unsatisfied with the film roles being offered to her at the time, she decided to take a break after acting in Arrivano i bersaglieri (1980) by Luigi Magni and Manolesta (1981) by Pasquale Festa Campanile.
We find her again in 1990 in By Night Fall by Francesca Archibugi, and from that moment on she mostly worked on TV series. The actress was in fact one of the protagonists of Un prete tra noi (1997-1999) by Giorgio Capitani, Angelo il custode (2001) by Gianfrancesco Lazotti, I colori della vita (2006) by Stefano Reali, Married to a Cop (2008-2010) by Mauro Graiani, Tutti pazzi per amore 3 (2011) by Riccardo Milani. In more recent years she acted in films such as Blood of the Losers (2008) by Michele Soavi, The Immature (2011) by Paolo Genovese and A Golden Boy (2013) by Pupi Avati. In 2003 she was appointed Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic for artistic merits.