OBITUARY:Daniela Rocca

Wolfgang Achtner
Sunday 23 October 2011 00:51

Daniela Rocca was a tragic symbol of how short-lived fame can be in the fickle world of the cinema. After a brief moment of acclaim, she returned to obscurity and passed the last year of her life, alone and forgotten, in an old people's home. Rocca was only 57 and yet life had already passed her by.

Daniela Rocca was born in Acireale, one of the poorest districts of Catania, in Sicily. Like many other Italian starlets in the Fifties and Sixties, Rocca became an actress after winning a beauty contest. In 1953, she was elected Miss Catania, and soon after was noticed by talent scouts, after taking part in the Miss Italy contest.

Her first film was Mercanti di Donne (1957). Four years later, the director Pietro Germi who had seen her in I Masnadieri (1961), offered her the role of Rosalia in Divorzio all'Italiana (Divorce Italian Style, 1961).

After directing a series of films that were all realistic social dramas played out against Sicilian backgrounds, Germi had decided to film a comedy that denounced the absurdity of a society that prohibits divorce but is indulgent to crimes of passion. The director had realised that by making a comedy he would be able to tackle a controversial subject without incurring the wrath of the censors. The target of Germi's satire was Article 587 of the Italian penal code, which allowed any man who killed a woman to protect his honour to get off with only a light prison sentence.

In Germi's film, Rocca played Rosalia, the oppressive wife of Baron Fefe, played by Marcello Mastroianni. The baron, in love with his 16-year-old cousin, Angela (Stefania Sandrelli), concocts a scheme to get rid of his wife and marry his cousin. Baron Fefe pushes Rosalia to infidelity, kills her to protect his honour, and receives only a light sentence, which is applauded by his countrymen.

In Divorce Italian Style Rocca gave a brilliant performance as the unwanted wife, accepting a moustachioed upper lip, in order to appear sufficiently unattractive. This was seen an act of great courage for a young symbol of Mediterranean beauty.

During the making of the film, Rocca fell in love with Germi and, when the situation did not end the way she had hoped, she attempted suicide.

Divorce Italian Style was a box-office hit in Italy and won considerable praise and popularity abroad. The success of this film confirmed that Italian-style comedy was a genre that allowed film directors to tackle highly controversial topics that would have otherwise been taboo in Italy. These films allowed Italian spectators to laugh at their own shortcomings and, at the same time, encouraged public debate.

Daniela Rocca took part in almost a dozen other films, including L'Attico, I Don Giovanni della costa azzurra, and . . . E venne il giorno della vendetta.

In 1963, Rocca's film career ended abruptly. She was only 25 years old. After her attempted suicide, she was considered unreliable and received no offers. She fell into a state of severe depression. Her name appeared in the papers for the last time after she cut her wrists and was recovered in a mental institution, in Palermo.

After her release, she returned to Catania in 1975. In an interview, three years later, Rocca confessed she had attempted suicide because she had fallen hopelessly in love with Pietro Germi. Rocca claimed she had been unjustly treated by her former colleagues, all of whom had abandoned her. "They said I was crazy, when all I had was a nervous breakdown. Instead of helping me, they sent me off to the hospital. It took a long time for the doctors to realise that I wasn't mad and let me go."

Before disappearing once more, Rocca played a minor role in a film for television, La Macchina del cinema, by Marco Bellocchio.

Rocca lived the last years of her life at a retirement home in Milo, near Catania, where she spent her time writing poems. She published four books: Agente segreto con licenza di vivere, Avvocato offresi, Il condannato a morte, Psicoanalisi, sogni, fantasie nascosti nella mente, and a collection of poems, Ara.

Wolfgang Achtner

Daniela Rocca, actress: born, Acireale, Sicily 12 September 1937; died Catania 28 May 1995.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments