Oscar Actors: Loren, Sophia Winning for Italian Film

(La Ciociara aka The Woman from Ciociara)
The great Italian actress Sophia Loren, previously known as an international sex icon, gives an astounding performance in Vittorio De Sica’s bleak, black-and-white WWII saga, “Two Women,” based on Alberto Moravia’s book, and produced by the influential Carlo Ponti, Loren’s husband.


Loren became the first actress in Oscar’s history to win the Best Actress Oscar for foreign-language film. Italian Anna Magnani had won the Oscar in 1955, but it was for an English-speaking film, “The Rose Tattoo,” based on Tennessee Williams’ play.

This grim, emotionally devastating, extremely well-acted war melodrama is adapted to the screen the distinguished neo-realistic scribe Cesare Zavattini, who had written many of De Sica’s great, earlier films of the 1940s and 1950).

Set in 1943 in Rome, the tale centers on a young widow (Loren) operating a grocery store, who escapes the city during the bombings with her teenage daughter (Eleanora Brown).

Main section details austere daily life in war in her home village, where the two women find support and are befriended by Michele (Gallic Jean Paul Belmondo), a sensitive schoolteacher. Michele falls in love with Loren (who has never looked more naturally voluptuous, wearing the same robe and no makeup throughout the film), which terribly upsets her naïve and virginal daughter Rosa, because she is in love with him, too.

Later on, Michele is forced to escort some Nazis, who are retreating from the country, and mother and daughter are both brutally raped by one of the most horrific and scenes in film history.

At first, the angry Rosa lashes at her mother and refuses to communicate with her, but the two women reconcile when they hear the devastating news of Michele’s death.

Loren’s part in “Two Women” was first intended for Anna Magnani under George Cukor’s direction. The idea was to cast Magnani in the mother’s role and Loren as her daughter. Magnani, however, rejected this proposition because

Loren was “much taller than me,” claiming that she could not perform with a daughter “I have to look up to.” Loren was excited about the prospects of performing with Magnani, who at the time was the doyenne of Italian actresses. She tried to persuade Magnani, but to no avail.

As it turned out, this part was single-handedly responsible for changing Sophia Loren’s image as a sex symbol, establishing her as a dramatic and comedic actress of the first rank.

Author Moravia’s work provided the source material for two other distinguished films: Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt” in 1963 and Bertolucci’s “The Conformist,” in 1971.


Oscar Nominations: 1

Best Actress: Sophia Loren

Oscar Awards: 1

Best Actress


Oscar Context

In 1961, Sophia Loren deservedly won the Oscar in a competitive contest that included Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Piper Laurie in “The Hustler,” Geraldine Page in “Summer and Smoke,” and Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass.”