If you’re like me, you’re always hesitating when this question comes your way: “Who’s your favorite actress?” You know that the list of names at the top of your head will probably leave the curious person in front of you clueless. There’s no Meryl Streep, no Scarlett Johanssen, no Cate Blanchett… When I respond “Florinda Bolkan”, I’m sometimes annoyed at having to justify myself, or sometimes delighted in confusing my audience. So many overlooked actresses… so many dim-witted personalities that currently fascinates the so-called entertainment media… so let’s be thankful for our own guest list!
Yes, Florinda Bolkan. This performer has amazed audiences with powerful portrayals of complex female characters in sometimes unexpected projects. Ever saw The Damned, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, A Brief Vacation, Flavia, Priestess of Violence and how many others? Amazingly, Florinda is still working these days, recently becoming a director. For her, being good-looking was not a reason to play dumb characters. She used her own intriguing beauty to destabilize us, as we couldn’t predict her behavior in many roles, rejecting all stereotypes. Refreshing, isnt’t it?
She was born as Florinda Soares Bulcão, on February 15, 1941, in Uruburetama, Ceará, Brazil (quite a mouthful!), in the north east part of the country. Youngest of three children from a Brazilian father and an Indios mother, Florinda knew how to care of herself at a very young age. Her much-older dad soon passed away and at the age of 14, she was already busy in the market place, working as a secretary and still studying languages at school (mainly French and English). Her mom remarried and gave her two step-sisters. Florinda then worked for Varig Airlines and nearly married a Polish nobleman! But her curious nature got the better of her.
In 1963, she visited London and Paris, establishing herself in the latter city for more studying. She refused many offers to become a model, due to shyness. Eventually, she returned to Brazil. On a trip to Rome in 1967, famed director Luchino Visconti, no less, convinced her to try acting. It’s at this point that began a most unique movie career. She soon rubbed elbows with John Cassevetes, starring in a gangster film, Machine Gun McCain, and took part in a big-budgeted mess, Candy, starring Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, James Coburn, John Huston, Walter Matthau and Ringo Starr. No bad for a beginner. Her name Bulcão became Bolkan and she soon learned Italian.
In 1969, Florinda could be seen in Visconti’s unforgettable The Damned, and a couple of police thrillers. Her workload became impressively busy and international glory came knocking with Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion in 1970, who won Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, the Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival and Best Film at the David di Donatello Awards, kind of lke the Italian Oscars. She would win two Best Actress awards for the Donatello, one for The Anonymous Venetian in 1971 and for Dear Parents in 1973.
After the period movie The Last Valley in 1971, Florinda could be seen in the astonishing Lizard in a Woman’s Skin for Lucio Fulci, in what I consider one of my favorite female performance of all time. Yes, no less! This sexy, violent and complex thriller is a must-see, if only for our actress’ multi-layered work as troubled Carol Hammond. Be sure to grab an uncut copy! And marvel at Ennio Morricone’s haunting score! Florinda would team up with Fulci the next year for another amazing thriller, Don’t Torture a Duckling, controversial for its take on the Catholic Church. At that point, she became Italy’s first leading lady.
Dear Parents in 1973 was a personal high, winning Florinda praises and an acting prize, working alongside other cult personalities Catherine Spaak and Maria Schneider. Same thing for A Brief Vacation, one of Vittoria De Sica’s last movie project and maybe Florinda’s best movie work. Enjoying a lucky streak, she took the title role for Flavia, Priestess of Violence, not really a horror movie, but instead a movie about horror, another strong statement concerning organized religion. Flavia’s final fate is still a stomach-turner, though. Amazing to witness such a strong female role in what is wrongfully considered a cheap exploitation movie. Don’t expect a remake soon!
A Richard Lester period comedy in 1975, Royal Flash, enjoyed great success. After a comedy alongside Claudia Cardinale (A Common Sense of Modesty), a jungle prison movie (Slaves from Prison Camp Manaos) and a nun-revenge thriller (The Last House on the Beach), Florinda tried her luck in Hollywood in 1978 for The Word. This CBS mini-series disappointed her, as was the artifical high rolling life in Beverly Hills. Longing for a less hectic life, Florinda took a break for acting, devoting herself to sports and real estate. Of course, she would return in Italy for some stage work. In the eighties, she concentrated herself in appearing in television mini-series, mainly for La Piovra, which introduced her to a new legion of fans.
She popped up in an American comedy in 1988, Some Girls, but mainly continued to appear on Italian TV and theater, all with winning reviews. In the early ‘90s, Florinda published a gourmet book in Latin countries. What was left to conquer? In 2000, she wrote, produced, directed and starred in her own project, I Didn’t Know Tururu, in Brazil, which won a couple of acting prizes, thusly creating her own cinema and music company. Florinda could be seen on Italian television as recently as 2006 for La notte breve. She also heads a foundation for children (Florinda Bolkan NGO) in financial need, with offices in Brazil and Italy.
Now, you must tell me that you are fascinated by this incredible woman, a talent that should be more wide-spread upon this entire world, not only as a great actress, but also as a great humanitarian. Go, go, go rent/buy her movies now and spread the word! Prepare to be amazed! I still am after a couple a decades!
1968 A Complicated Girl; Machine Gun McCain; Candy 1969 Love Circle; Le voleur de crimes; Un detective; The Damned 1970 Una stagione all’inferno; Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion; Black Lemons; The Anonymous Venetian 1971 Incontro; The Last Valley; Lizard in a Woman’s Skin 1972 Le droit d’aimer; Don’t Torture a Duckling; The Master Touch 1973 Dear Parents; A Brief Vacation 1974 Le mouton enragé; Flavia, Priestess of Violence 1975 The Day That Shook the World; Primal Impulse; Royal Flash 1976 A Common Sense of Modesty 1978 Slaves from Prison Camp Manaos; The Last House on the Beach 1983 Legati da tenera amicizia; Soap and Water 1985 The Trap 1988 Prisoner of Rio; Some Girls 1989 Portaritratto per signora 1991 Millions 1994 Delitto passionale 1995 The Strange Story of Olga O 1996 L’ombre du pharaon 1998 White Dunes 2000 I Didn’t Know Tururu 2003 Bad Inclination