The latest diva | The rise of the young actress who conquered Rome with her fragility

The coffee room was full, but she kept waiting. Even the poet D’Annunzio, so shady and rude, had arrived on time. Hinting at a few tight-lipped smiles, he sank into his chair. From the pocket of the double-breasted velvet a gardenia peeked out. There was a smell of good tobacco in the air, mixed with a slight hint of musky perfume. Francesco Paolo Michetti and Pietro Mascagni conversed with Roberto Bracco and Francesco Paolo Tosti.They were silent at the entrance of Isadora Duncan, on the arm of the sculptor Romano Romanelli. The world spoke only of her, of her beauty and her sensuality, on stage as in her life. She was an emancipated, free woman, capable of excesses and oddities, a mysterious and irresistible creature even for D’Annunzio. Romanelli was working on the bust of the poet, and they often rehearsed in his studio in Borgo San Frediano in Florence.

Isadora was always there, with D’Annunzio’s eyes focused on her breast. She danced along the corridor of the café, light as a dragonfly. The men sat in a circle around the poet, like the knights of the Round Table. Romanelli was Lancelot, and Michetti the magician Merlin. It was said that D’Annunzio went to ask him for a remedy when he entered a crisis of love. Which happened frequently.Francesca made her entrance shortly thereafter. She advanced haughtily towards Peroni, but no one looked at her. They were moments of torture. The indifference of those aristocratic ladies, who sported jewels, sumptuous dresses and high-sounding predicates, corroded her bowels. Marchioness of … Baroness of … They were stones in the belly, one after the other. Hard as her anger. What a humiliation to have to beg for a smile, a look, a scrap of conversation! She felt invisible, excluded, as in her beginnings.

Miss Nobody came back to haunt her. “What have I come to do?” She murmured. “Francesca Bertini?” A woman approached her to greet her; she scrutinized her as a female, with mocking eyes, theatrically waving a fan. She was beautiful and she knew it. «I’m Maria Jacobini». Francesca knew her by name. She was an actress like her, but born much higher. She tried to captivate her by quoting the manager of her theater company, Cesare Dondini Jr. about her The other of her almost turned away from her, to fondle with Bracco. No wonder, since one word from him was enough to decree the fate of an artist. A few years earlier, his picks on Scarpetta’s career, guilty of having staged a hilarious parody of The Daughter of Iorio, had made the tour of Italy. “How dare you drag me to court, that exalted madman?” The Goncourt brothers are right! He is a sinister utilisateur! ». Francesca could still hear Scarpetta’s screams as he wandered restlessly through the rooms of the palace. She had asked Serao for help, but she, upright, refused to censor the pen of Bracco or anyone else.

In the quarrel, that exalted D’Annunzio had enormously amused himself. He even made a point of it when they interviewed him, raising his eyebrow as a sign of deep satisfaction. Nobody gave weight to the epilogue, except poor Scarpetta – who won as a loser. Francesca felt herself wavering, alone in the middle of the room, without handholds, in the center of nothing. The pearl-gray silk dress slipped over her making her ethereal, but her legs couldn’t hold her: she ran into the bathroom and, bending over the toilet, she vomited up anxiety and drool. Acid splashes stained her dress. She couldn’t lose control! She quickly took it off, rolling up the suspender, and her stains disappeared among the folds of silk. Back in the room, she found herself in the presence of a firing squad. She thought she heard the commander shouting: “To death!” And she saw herself bloodless on the ground, among careless and merciless faces. A spasm of her folded her belly, while Giacomo Peroni took her hands pushing D’Annunzio towards her. «Maestro, this is Francesca Bertini. You will hear about her, and a lot. She is an actress of the cinema, very good! ».

The Vate was writing (not alone) the script for Cabiria, which was heralded as the most expensive film in history. Innovative shooting techniques and pharaonic staging, at the service of a popular history. “Cabiria will bring cinema into a modern dimension”, D’Annunzio ruled, moving his eyes in search of adoring gazes. “It is no coincidence that he will bear my signature!” Francesca she confessed that she had read The Pleasure twice and that she knew almost everything by heart.And she realized she was in trouble. The poet immediately asked her to interpret a passage: “In the center of the room, miss,” she thundered. Like a pigeon already doomed before a shooting match, she closed her eyes and began to recite: “What a strange love!” Said Elena, remembering her very first days, her pain, her quick dedication. «I would have given to you the same evening that I saw you». Silence filled the room, until applause broke the magic. She had struck the right chords, tickling the poet’s vanity. “What would you say if I offered you a leading role in Narbonne’s Folchetto, written by my son Gabriellino?”. From the back of the table, the beautiful Jacobini gave a cry of exhortation: “The great D’Annunzio has given you a great honor!” And then she, looking at him sideways, she added: “How can you say no to a man like him?”

“The last diva”Flaminia Marinaro, Fazi Editore, 192 pages, 18 euros

The latest diva | The rise of the young actress who conquered Rome with her fragility