"What is acting after all?" Maddalena (Anna Magnani) rhetorically asks before the mirror in Visconti's melodrama of mother love and misplaced ambition. Magnani's extraordinary performance is its own answer. As a working-class mother desperate to get her young daughter a shot at stardom through a Cinecitt? casting call, Magnani turns what might have been a simplistic caricature of a domineering stage mamma into a fully rendered character, both hilarious and tragically human. Visconti's direction similarly refuses to distinguish between satire and sincerity; even while it mocks the business of moviemaking, Bellissima is an exquisite example of the filmmaker's craft.