25/10/2013 12:58 BST | Updated 25/10/2013 12:58 BST

The Regards of Women in Italian Cinema

An old friend contacted me this week referring to Marina Abramovic's unforgettable performance at the MoMa in 2010. One of the first few lines of the email read: "Cos'è uno sguardo?" Translated as "What is a gaze or look?" in English. It has been in my head all day long as I have sought to answer this puzzling question. As an actress, I found myself revisiting some of the very best performances I can recall, in which an actress has so effectively conveyed her emotions. Nostalgic by nature, my recollections are steeped in the black and white classics. I still believe them to be as relevant as ever. Please indulge me for a moment as I seek to answer this question by celebrating some of the most respected Italian actresses in cinema.

Growing up in Italy, my early experience and love of film was shaped by iconic stars such as Mariangela Melato and Monica Vitti. There wasn't a film of Mariangela's that I didn't love. How could one forget her performance in Lina Wertmuller's Swept Away? If we are to delve into 'cinematographic regards', Mariangela was one of the few stars that was able to combine beauty and irony to remarkable effect. This was also true of the great Monica Vitti.

There were of course so many brilliant starring roles in Michelangelo Antonioni's films, but Monica Vitti's performance in L'Avventura sticks out as one of the most memorable. I find myself inspired each time as I watch in awe of her brilliance as she conveys her emotions on that island. They surpass the dialogue, the words, the images and the sound.

The gazes of Anna Magnani do not need any sort of explanation. I don't believe that you can watch Rome, Open City by Roberto Rossellini, or for that matter, any of her films, and fail to understand the vibrancy of her regard. Refreshingly, she was so proud of these expressions that conveyed such deep-felt emotion. I always think back to a famous quotation from her. When her make-up artist at the time was trying to conceal her wrinkles and dark circles, she replied: "Please don't retouch my wrinkles. It took me so long to earn them." The choice of the word 'earn' is particularly fitting as without such wrinkles, we would be without the laughter and the tears that imprinted them. In a world driven by pressures to emulate perfection, these are words that continue to echo in my mind.

We must not forget Claudia Cardinale in Girl with a Suitcase by Valerio Zurlini, just as Silvana Mangano in Pier Paolo Pasolini's Theorem should be remembered. The looks of innocence and mystery hit me every time. The cinema will always evoke specific feelings from each person. Whether it is the words, the music, the style or the tone that does this...for me, it is those great actresses' regards and emotions that I find so compelling and enchanting.

I was born in Sicily and we have an expression we use, "Dunne te luciano l'occhi?" Literally translated as "Where are your eyes sparkling?" This is commonly used to ask where someone is. I was in London last week for the premiere of One Chance and my eyes have been sparkling since I have arrived. A premiere is always a very special occasion: seeing the culmination of your hard work, as well as enjoying the fun and prestige of the red carpet. I wouldn't dream of thinking that history might place me amongst some of my cinematic inspirations, but I know that on Thursday evening, with the cameras flashing and crowds cheering, I couldn't help thinking about regard again.