Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

Font Size: 
Sickness Becomes Woman: Diva and Love-Sick
Elena Ezechielli

Last modified: 2010-05-28


"Illness is the dark side of life, a more onerous citizenship" (Susan Sontag, 1979), is both a scandal and the element of life through which we become aware of our life. Cinema (as literature, theatre and art in general) takes care to highlight this dark side of human life, being responsible for visualizing the metaphor of disease through the woman figure.

Too often the Italian silent cinema is populated by female characters gripped by illness. Whether it is considered from the standpoint of psychological or physical, I notice the profound connection between women and illness. Thus, female figures in their struggle between life and death show the extraordinary myth and mystic power of disease. They bring out the deep cultural image of illness on which it is based. Therefore, the disease is a prime area for exploration, a projection screen on which representations have clear outlines. Leaving aside the figurative sense, which involves mental alteration and psychological equilibrium, I want to draw attention in particular to the physical illness: the pathology that undermines the stability of a healthy body and that gradually drives women to despair and death. The female body, an expression of harmony, beauty and candor, is wasted away by incurable sorrow. And the pain, the hell of the sickness, is usually caused by love. On one hand disease becomes an expression of suffered love, on the other it is a punishment for having kept it secret. 

My contribution does not intend to dissolve the complex subject matter under analysis (woman-illness), but it focuses on an aspect often overlooked, that can illuminate certain aspects. With the aid of various sources, providing a theoretical basis and methodological approach to my discussion, I want to narrow my research to Leda Gys in the role of Mariella in La Madonnina dei Marinai (Ubaldo Maria Del Colle, 1928).

The analysis of a specific case and the concentration on a single movie, in relation to other Italian silent movies, will allow us to thoroughly analyze some aspects. First of all, as significant theme, it is interesting to understand those motivations that associate the image of the sickness with the figure of woman and to investigate the underlying cultural dynamics.

Secondly, through romantic impulse, it is possible to highlight why the female characters fall ill. As we said above, the main cause of illness is unrequited love.  This is produced by two different factors. On one hand, the loss of  a beloved, tempted by bourgeois femme fatale; on the other, the dishonour for a secret lover that family could not accept.


Conference registration is required in order to view papers.