Nationality: Italian. Born: Elena Seracini Vitiello in Florence, 11 April 1888 (some sources state 6 February 1892). Family: Married Count Paul Cartier, 1921, one son. Career: c. 1903—stage debut at Teatro Nuovo in Naples; member of troupe of dialect players under Gennaro Pantalena; about 1907—film debut in Neapolitan film La dea del mare; acted for Film d'Arte Italiana Pathé, 1910–11, for Cine production company, 1912, for Celio production company, 1912–14; 1914—began acting for Caeser and Bertini Film; 1915—international star after role in Assunta spina; 1918—co-directed La Tosca, first and only attempt at film direction; 1920—contract with 20th Century-Fox; 1921—broke contract with Fox to retire from acting after marriage to Count Cartier; late 1920s—appeared in a few sound films in Germany and France; 1930–76—made occasional special appearance in various films. Died: October 1985.
Films as Actress:
La dea del mare
Il trovatore (Gasnier)
Ernani; Guilietta e Romeo; Tristano e Isotta; Francesca daRimini; La contessa di Challant; Re Lear; Folchetto diNarbonne; Lorenzo il Magnifico; Pia De' Tolomei
La morte civile; Il ritratto dell'amata; Il mercante di Venezia;La suonatrice ambulante; La rosa di Tebe; Il Pappagallodella zia Berta (Negroni); Idillio tragico (Negroni); Lagrimee sorrisi (Negroni)
La gloria (Negroni); L'avvoltoio nero; L'arma dei vigliacchi;Terra promessa; La maestrina (Negroni); La bufera(Negroni); Tramonte; L'Histoire d'un Pierrot (Negroni);Idolo infranto; L'anima del demi-monde (Negroni);L'arrivista; La cricca dorata; In faccia al destino (Negroni);La madre (Negroni); La vigilia di natale; Salome; Per lasua gioia
Eroismo d'amore (Ravà); L'onesta che uccide; L'amazzonemascherata; La canzone di Werner; Sangue bleu (Ravà);Nelly la gigolette (Ghione); Une donna! Per il blasone; Laprincipessa straniera; Rose e spine; Il veleno della parole;Colpa altrui
Assunta spina (Serena); La signora dalle camelie (Serena);Nella fornace (Oxilia); Ivonne (Serena); Dianal'affascinatrice (De Antoni); Il capestro degli Asburgo
La perla del cinema (De Liguoro or Serena or De Antoni);Fedora (De Liguoro or De Antoni); Odette (De Liguoro);My Little Baby (Baby l'indiavolate) (De Liguoro); Ferréol(De Antoni); Oberdan (Serena); Vittima dell'ideale (Serena)
Don Pietro Caruso (Bracco); Lacrimae rerum (Nel gorgodella vita) (Del Liguoro); Andreina (Roberti or Serena);L'alba; Anima redenta
La Tosca (+ co-d with De Antoni or Serena); L'affaireClémenceau (De Antoni); Piccolo Fonte (Roberti); FrouFrou (Roberti or De Antoni); La piovra (Roberti); Malia(De Antoni); Anima allegra (Roberti); La donna nuda(Roberti); Mariute (Bencivenga); Saracinesca (Roberti)
Oltre le legge; L'ombra (Roberti); Principessa Giorgio(Roberti); La contessa Sarah (Roberti); Lise Fleron (Roberti);Spiritismo (Roberti); La serpe (Roberti); Beatrice (De Riso); La sfinnge (Roberti)
I sette piccata capitali (series of seven films) (Roberti, De Riso, Bencivenga, De Antoni, and possibly d'Ambra);Anima selvaggia
Maddalena Ferat (Roberti); Le blessure (Roberti); Marion(Roberti); La giovinezza del diavolo (D'Annunzio); Lafanciulla di Amalfi; Amore vince amore; La donna, ildiavolo, il tempo; Fama (Roberti); La Ferita (Roberti);Ultimo sogno (Roberti)
Monte Carlo (La fine di Montecarlo); Odette (Mein Leben furdas deine) (Morat)
Possession (Perret); Tu m'appartiens (Glieze)
La donna di una notte (Palermi); La Femme d'une nuit(L'Herbier) (French version of previous film)
A sud niente di nuovo (Simonelli)
1900 (Novecento) (Bertolucci)
By BERTINI: book—
Il resto non conta, Pisa, 1969.
On BERTINI: books—
Bianchi, Pietro, Francesca Bertini e le dive del cinema muto, Torino, 1969.
Costantini, Costanzo, La diva imperiale: ritratto di Francesca Bertini, Milano, 1982.
On BERTINI: articles—
Mariátegui, J.C., "La ultima pelicula de Francesca Bertini," in Hablemos de cine (Lima), January/March 1972.
Filmography in Bianco e nero (Rome), May 1978.
Cahiers de la Cinématheque (Paris), nos. 26–27, 1979.
Cinema nuovo (Turin), August 1981.
On BERTINI: film—
The Last Diva, Gianfranco Mingozzi, 1983.
* * *
A type of film star grew up in the early Italian cinema: sophisticated, glamorous, highly temperamental, and a trendsetter in fashion and romance. The film divas were highly competitive and jealously guarded their status in the cinema; they were also highly paid. Lyda Borelli and Hesperia were two of them, but Francesca Bertini was to become the most famous.
After having begun her career in Naples, Bertini came to Rome and played with Celio films, where she was groomed for stardom. In 1913 she scored a great success in Baldassare Negroni's L'Histoire d'un Pierrot. Apart from her performance, the film showed a mastery of screen language and attracted wide audiences outside of Italy. Her repertoire included popular Italian and French plays such as those of Sardou. In 1915 she made her best film, Assunta spina, a break with the torrid society dramas to which her public was accustomed. Her Nelly la gigolette, intelligently directed by Emilio Ghione the previous year, was also a more down-to-earth creation. Assunta spina was the story of a working-class girl who is a slave of circumstance, attracting men whose loves, jealousies, and selfishness lead her to a tragic end. A faithful depiction of its setting (it was shot in the streets of Naples), it anticipates the neorealism of the 1940s. Its director, Gustave Serena, played the lead.
For great roles such as La Tosca, Fedora, and La signora dalle camelie, she rose to the occasion. The latter was rushed through to challenge her rival Hesperia, then appearing in the same role. Bertini's output was prolific, encompassing all kinds of subjects; she possessed both a photogenic beauty, and an expressive personality.
In 1921 she married Count Paul Cartier and retired from films. But she did return to filmmaking in Germany and Spain at the beginning of the sound period and thereafter made special appearances, as Burt Lancaster's sister, for example, in Bertolucci's 1900. When the London Film Festival of 1983 presented a film about her by Gianfranco Mingozzi she was planning to attend the showing, though she was then in her nineties. The title of the film was The Last Diva. Louis Delluc, an admirer of hers, said: "One does not know till too late that it is necessary to study all the work of Francesca Bertini."