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Goodbye, Valentina

We regret to inform you that the headscarf-loving Italian actress Valentina Cortese has passed away at 96 years of age. She first came to international fame playing Fantine & Cosette in an Italian take on the oft-adapted Les Misérables (1948). After that picture European directors came calling and so did Hollywood (including the Academy)...

Cortese as "Herodias" in Jesus of Nazareth (1977)Her Hollywood or British film work included The House on Telegraph Hill (1951) The Barefoot Contessa (1954), The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968), the TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977), and Queen Ariadne in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988).

Her key international films include Juliet of the Spirits (1965) and Brother Sun Sister Moon (1972) from Italy. But she's surely best remembered today for the role of Séverine in François Truffaut's French classic Day For Night (1973). In fact she held an Oscar record for a few decades because of it.

Get this, Trivia lovers. Until Marina de Tavira's surprise nomination for Roma (2018) just last season, Cortese was the only actor, male or female, ever nominated for a supporting role in a foreign-language film.

Cortese as Severine in "Day for Night"

This Oscar record requires a bit of context, lest we be corrected in the comments. There have been a few handfuls of non-English language performances nominated but all of them have either been roles within english language films (think Adriana Barrazza in Babel or Robert De Niro in The Godfather II ... that type or thing) or they've been leading roles in international films where usually the actor's headlining starpower has helped secure them the kind of press that leads to a nomination -- think of the Lorens, Deneuves, and Cotillards of the world. Until Roma, Cortese was the only supporting actor ever cherry-picked for honors by the Academy for a foreign film.

Rest in peace, Valentina.

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Reader Comments (12)

"Thank you very much indeed. It's always very nice to get an Oscar. But in the past he has shown that he is very forgetful and also has the wrong timing. Because last year when Day and Night won for the best [foreign language] picture I couldn't believe it that Valentina Cortese was not nominated, because she gave the most beautiful performance.

[Finds Cortese in the audience:]

There you are! She gave the most beautiful performance that all we actresses recognized because, after all, we have all forgotten our lines and always open the wrong doors, and it was wonderful to see her do it so beautifully. Therefore I am... It's so ironic that this year she's nominated when the picture won last year. I don't quite understand that, but here I am and I'm her rival and I don't like it at all. Please forgive me, Valentina. I didn't mean to. Thank you."

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterIngrid Bergman

She still is the only supporting player from a non-English language film who is her film's only acting nominee.

And I hope we all agree with Ingrid Bergman that she really should have won.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMrW

I work at a hotel and a guest checked in with the same last name. I jokingly asked if they were related (they weren't) but the guest was from Italy and knew exactly who I was talking about. We spent about 20 minutes talking about Italian cinema. Valentina was certainly appreciated and remembered in Europe. So sad to hear of her passing.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTom G

And she lost to Bergman's worst performance.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

The above Ingrid Bergman quote is one of my favorite Oscar moments. Ingrid was graciousness itself in her speech and Valentina's reaction was so wonderful. Least anyone think she was slighting Diane Ladd and Talia Shire, her other two competitors, Ingrid explained later that she had not seen their performances at that time but admired them greatly later when she saw those films.

I've seen only approximately a third of her films (the latest the long sought after "Angels of Darkness" where she costars with Linda Darnell, Anthony Quinn, Giulietta Masina-marvelous just for the cast but pretty good on its own merits) and while the pictures have varied in quality she was consistently exemplary.

It's a sad day but 96 is a good run.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I loved her performance in Day for Night, and that is my most vivid memory of Valentina Cortese.
For anyone who loves film and the actors, track down a copy of Day For Night at your library, or wherever... Truffaut at his best, Jacqueline Bisset at peak beauty, and Cortese giving a great comic turn as the flustered older actress.
Ingrid Bergman's tribute is perfection.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Yes, Day For Night is beautiful. And Valentina Cortese is its highlight (and considering its cast, that's saying something). R.I.P.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

She is wonderful in "Day for Night"- Truffaut's classic tribute to the people who make movies

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

In some of her English-language films early in her career, he name was wrongly spelled in the credits. She appeared as Valentina Cortesa.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

Great actress, great post.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

She should have won.

We could make our own list of foreign performances that should have been nominated. First that pops into my mind is Carmen Maura in Volver.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I need to see Day for Night just because.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

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