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IN PICTURES: The iconic life of Italian actress Sophia Loren as she turns 84

Sophia Loren was the first actress to win an Oscar, in 1962, for a foreign-language performance. She has worked with most of the great Italian directors and a plethora of star actors, and is arguably Italy's most famous on-screen face. Here are some glimpses of her iconic life in pictures.

IN PICTURES: The iconic life of Italian actress Sophia Loren as she turns 84
Sophia Loren with Charlie Chaplin in London in 1965. Photo: AFP PHOTO.

Born Sofia Villani Scicolone on September 20th 1934 in Rome, Sophia Loren is a symbol of Italy in the world and one of the most famous on-screen faces of all time. 

She was discovered as a teenager in a beauty pageant. In 1957, she married Italian film producer Carlo Ponti, and in 1958 she signed a five-picture deal with Paramount Pictures, appearing in films alongside stars such as Cary Grant and Anthony Perkins.

She shot to fame in 1962 when she became the first foreign-language actress to win an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Italian director Vittorio de Sica's film Two Women (La Ciociara)

She starred in films with Peter Sellers, Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck, Charlie Chaplin and many other names that conjure the history of cinema. 

She has won 65 awards in all, according to IMDB, including five Golden Globe Awards and two Oscars (one was a honorary award in 1991).  She has starred in 94 films since her debut in 1950. 

We celebrate her 84th birthday with a collection of classic photos from the beauty icon's past. 

Sophia Loren (right) in 1955. Photo: AFP PHOTO/INTERCONTINENTALE/AFP.

American actor John Wayne and Sophia Loren arrive in Rome from Africa after Wayne broke a leg during the shooting of 'The Legend of the Lost'. Photo: STAFF/INTERCONTINENTALE/AFP.

Sophia Loren with Italian director Vittorio de Sica (left) and American actor Clark Gable in 1959 during the shooting of the film 'It started in Naples'. Photo: AFP PHOTO. 

READ ALSO: Sophia Loren opens life exhibit in Mexico 

An undated photo of Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando. Photo: AFP PHOTO. 

Sophia Loren is accompanied by Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali (l) and American actor Paul Newman at the Boulogne studios where her husband, Carlo Ponti, was organizing the shooting of the film 'Lady L' in 1964. Photo: AFP PHOTO. 

Sophia Loren, accompanied by her husband Carlo Ponti (R), and Fabre-Lebret, president of the Festival, waves to the crowd in April 1964, during the Cannes International Film Festival. Photo: AFP PHOTO. 

READ ALSO: Restored version of Italian classic Bicycle Thieves goes to Cannes Film Festival

British actor, author and film director Charlie Chaplin and Sophia Loren give a press conference to announce their film 'A Countess from Hong Kong' in November 1965 at the Savoy Hotel in London. Photo: AFP PHOTO. 

An undated photo. Photo: AFP PHOTO. 

Sophia Loren, with husband Carlo Ponti, holds her first child, Carlo Jr., a few days after he was born in a clinic in Geneva in 1959. Photo: AFP PHOTO. 

READ ALSO: Classic Stanley Kubrick memorabilia auctioned off in Italy

A picture taken during the 1960s in Paris of Sophia Loren and her husband Carlo Ponti. Photo: AFP PHOTO. 

Italian actress Sophia Loren and film producer Carlo Ponti (2nd L) arrive at the Palace Festival, 27th May 1976 during the Cannes International Film Festival. AFP PHOTO.

READ ALSO: The stunning movie scene locations you simply have to visit in Italy

American actor Robert de Niro and Sophia Loren display their awards during the 36th International film festival in Cannes on May 7th, 1983. Ralph Gatti/AFP.

Sophia Loren and her second son Edoardo Ponti, now a director, are seen in July 1984 on the set of the film 'Qualcosa di Biondo' being filmed in Rome under the direction of Maurizio Ponzi. Sophia Loren played the role of a taxi driver taking her son to a Swiss clinic for an eye operation. AFP/UPI PHOTO.

READ ALSO: The most spectacular places to see outdoor cinema in Italy this summer

Sophia Loren with Federico Fellini (centre), to whom she presented an Oscar for a lifetime achievement award, and Marcello Mastroianni at the Oscars in 1993. Photo: Scott Flynn/AFP. 

READ ALSO: Loren leads stars in tributes to late Italian director 

Italian director Roberto Benigni is led off the stage by presenter-actress Sophia Loren (right) after winning the Oscar for Foreign Language Film for his movie 'Life is Beautiful' during the 71st Academy Awards on March 21st 1999 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP.

Sophia Loren and Shirley MacLaine, (R) present during the 81st Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on February 22nd, 2009 in Hollywood, California. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP.

Sophia Loren in the Netherlands in September 2018. Photo: Robin Utrecht/ANP/AFP.

READ MORE: Sophia Loren ends 39-year tax feud

MAFIA

Why Italian cinema is starting to glamorize the mafia

For years it was only American filmmakers who glorified mafiosi, while Italian cinema showed the grittier reality of organized crime. Now that's starting to change. Italian film expert Dana Renga traces the shift.

Why Italian cinema is starting to glamorize the mafia
'The Traitor', a recent mafia drama that caused controversy in Italy. Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

For almost a century, American filmmakers have glamorized the mafia, depicting their ranks as so charismatic and quick-witted that you might want to invite them over for dinner.

Audiences saw this most recently in 'The Irishman', which reunites a star cast of the usual suspects – Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci – but also in 'The Sopranos' and 'Boardwalk Empire'.

The mafia’s glamorized sheen in America’s collective conscience might be due to the fact that the mafia never attained much power in the US. Compared with Italy, fewer lives have been lost and fewer businesses destroyed by the organized crime syndicate. Today many see the mafia as a relic of the past.

Not so in Italy, where mafias remain as powerful and dangerous as ever.

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Their menace has been reflected in Italian films and television series, which have long cast mobsters in a negative light.

But as someone who studies media depictions of the mafia, I’ve noticed a shift: Italian films and TV shows have started to glorify criminality, crafting and portraying mafiosos as alluring antiheroes.

In Italy, a break from tradition

It’s long been common practice in Hollywood to cast conventionally attractive actors as sympathetic criminal antiheroes. Humphrey Bogart in 'King of the Underworld', Al Pacino in 'The Godfather' trilogy and Denzel Washington in 'American Gangster' are just a few examples.

However, this practice is a relatively new phenomenon in Italy.

In Italian films from the 1960s and 1970s, Italian gangsters were depicted as shady and charmless.

In the popular Italian mafia biopics of the 1990s and 2000s, which included titles like 'One Hundred Steps' and 'Placido Rizzotto', they appeared as vicious, repulsive villains.

But that started to change in the 21st century. In 2005, director Michele Placido released 'Romanzo Criminale', a film about the Roman mafia that featured a cast of young, attractive mobsters.

More recently, good-looking, sympathetic criminals abound in the TV series 'Gomorrah', while slick, teenaged gangsters populate Claudio Giovannesi’s 2019 film 'Piranhas'.

A controversial portrayal

Marco Bellocchio’s most recent film, 'The Traitor', epitomizes this trend. Released in the US on January 31st, it was also Italy’s submission for Best International Feature Film in the Academy Awards.

At its centre is an ex-mobster named Tommaso Buscetta, played by the attractive Pierfrancesco Favino, sometimes known as “the Italian George Clooney”.

READ ALSO: The Traitor: True story of mafia informant is Italy's entry for the Oscars

The film tells the true story of Buscetta, who shared vital information about the inner workings of the mafia with Italian authorities in the early 1980s. His revelations sparked the “maxi trials”, which ended in 1987 and led to 342 convictions.

Buscetta, however, is viewed with suspicion by many Italians. To this day, his motivations for turning over evidence to the state are cloaked in mystery. In Italy, he’s hardly viewed as an ambassador for the anti-mafia cause. Nonetheless, 'The Traitor' turns him into an alluring antihero.

For these reasons, some Italians weren’t happy about this portrayal. It also didn’t help that the film was released on the anniversary of a mafia rampage that killed an anti-mafia prosecutor, his wife and their bodyguard.

Follow the money

These films and series are popular inside and outside of Italy; 'Gomorrah', for example, is distributed in over 190 countries.

Within Italy, however, protests against these films and series are commonplace. Many Italians are uncomfortable with the way they depict organized crime with characters who are charming and easy to like. Some of the loudest objections come from people who have lost loved ones to the mafia.

For example, the mayor of Naples claimed that 'Gomorrah' corrodes “the brains, minds and hearts of hundreds of young people”, while one judge accused the series’ creators of “excessively humanizing crime”.

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However, the success of American TV series like 'The Sopranos' conveyed an important lesson to Italian writers and producers: you don’t have to be a good guy to captivate audiences outside of Italy.

So for the last 15 years, Italian film and television producers have become famous by presenting organized crime in ways that are an anathema for many Italians, but find eager viewers around the world.

Dana Renga, Associate Professor of Italian Studies and Film, The Ohio State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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