My House Is Full of Mirrors (La Mia Casa è Piena di Specchi) is a two-part miniseries portraying the family story of iconic Italian film star Sophia Loren. Directed by Vittorio Sindonia, the movie first aired on RAI Italian TV in March 2010.
But this compelling biopic has now been given a second life, set to premiere with English captions on MHz Choice on July 20, 2021. If you enjoy Italian movies that depict times past, you won’t want to miss this one: Sophia Loren’s polished performance is magnificent.
From life to book to movie
Watching the 3½-hour movie requires some orientation. It is based on a 2004 autobiography written by Sophia Loren’s sister, Maria Scicolone. Although the book focuses on Maria’s life, which was shadowed by that of her celebrity sister, it is also the riveting story of their narcissistic, strong-willed, and domineering mother, Romilda Villani.
Loren, who was 75 years old when the movie was made, masterfully plays the role of her own mother. Actress Margareth Madè plays the role of the younger Sophia.
Romilda Villani was born to a poor family in the slums of Pozzuoli, a small town in Campania, outside of Naples. She lived in a small apartment with her single sister, Dora, and their parents.
Romilda had two children out of wedlock, Sofia and Maricuella (later called Sophia and Maria), fathered by her boyfriend, Riccardo Scicolone. A handsome, once-wealthy construction engineer, Scicolone refused to marry Romilda. Although he acknowledged the paternity of Sophia, he refused to admit that he fathered Maria (played by Gilda Lapardhaja) or allow her to bear his name. As a result, Maria and the family suffered the shame and stigma of her illegitimacy.
My House Is Full of Mirrors
Episode 1: Life turns around for Villani and Sophia
When Villani wins a Greta-Garbo look-alike beauty contest sponsored by MGM, she is afforded the opportunity to take a screen test in Hollywood and pursue her dreams of stardom. But her parents hold her back. So instead, she becomes a frustrated piano teacher and channels all her energies into promoting the career of her oldest daughter, Sophia.
Unmarried with two children, Villani struggles to make ends meet but eventually moves to Rome with Sophia. Assuming the role of an overbearing “stage mom,” she is determined to get roles as extras for her daughter and herself at Cinecittà Studios, the center of the movie industry in Italy. Maria, who was initially left home in Pozzuoli, eventually joins them, dropping out of school to reunite with her mother.
“The life he won’t give us, we’ll build for ourselves,” Villani says of her philandering boyfriend.
Sophia’s real career breakthrough occurs when she wins second place in a 1951 Miss Italia Contest at the age of 14 and is noticed by film producer Carlo Ponti, twenty years her senior and two years older than her mother. He eventually takes Sophia to Hollywood and launches her meteoric career as an international superstar (He divorces his previous wife, marries Sophia, and the couple raises two sons).
My House Is Full of Mirrors
Episode 2: Maria, living in the shadow of her sister
With her sister gone, Villani grows increasingly dependent on Maria, keeping her close to her side. Although Maria is more outgoing by nature than her sister, she cannot break away from her smothering mother. Villani is now wealthy, living comfortably because of her daughter’s fame and success, but she can’t tolerate the thought of being alone. So she makes her younger daughter her virtual prisoner.
After a six-year silence, Scicolone returns to Villani, admitting to crushing debts and asking her to bail him out. However, she only does so with the provision that he give his last name to Maria. Despite this brief rapprochement, the fractious relationship comes to a disappointing end for both Villani and Maria.
The two sisters remain close, and Maria visits Los Angeles, meeting the Hollywood elite. A talented vocalist, Frank Sinatra, asks her to sing a duet with him. But she always returns to her mother in Rome, forsaking her own career opportunities.
Scicolone ultimately falls in love with Romano Mussolini, a talented jazz musician and one of five sons of the notorious fascist dictator, Il Duce. She marries him in 1962, but he betrays her with another woman on their honeymoon and turns out to be as disingenuous as her father.
After this breakup, Maria separates from both Romano and her mother, creating a life of her own. Only then can she find the peace of mind that allows her to blossom.
An improbable but true story
This improbable but true story was superbly acted. It offers an intimate family portrait. Both daughters truly loved their mother and she loved them. And with the passage of time, both the author, Maria Scicolone, and lead actress, Sophia Loren, have gained (and share) remarkable insights into their challenging upbringing.
The miniseries is divided into two episodes: The first spans the start of Sophia’s acting career to her Oscar win for Two Women at the age of 26. The second focuses on the relationship between Maria and her mother. Although three+ hours is a bit long to watch in one sitting, it’s hard to “pause” between them.
I fell in love with the cinematography (interspersed with actual newsreels and movie clips), the period costumes and sets, and the enchanting musical score. There was even a dose of levity now and then.
More potent than a rags-to-riches story, what emerges is a tale of three resilient women who ultimately define their own destinies.
Learn more about the life of Sophia Loren
If the movie piques your interest, as it did mine:
- Read a fascinating article in the archives of The New York Times describing the wedding of Maria and Romano (depicted in the miniseries)
- Watch a YouTube clip of the wedding scene on RAI Uno (in Italian only):
- Listen to the music of Romano Mussolini, who created one of Italy’s most successful jazz bands, Romano Mussolini All-Stars, on YouTube (Mussolini played with Dizzy Gillespie Duke Ellington and Chet Baker, among others):
MHz Choice is a streaming service featuring foreign and international content for viewers in the U.S. and Canada. Great Italian movie offerings! Take advantage of the free trial.
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