Valentina Cervi, star of Artemisia -- Chris Wahl, Sun

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Friday, September 12, 1997

The artist as a young artist

By BRUCE KIRKLAND -- Toronto Sun
  Young, smart, bright, beautiful, sublimely talented -- a star is born in the new French film Artemisia. She is 22-year-old Italian actress Valentina Cervi.
 Based in Rome -- yet restless there because the rich culture overwhelms her "and makes me feel lazy" -- Cervi is eager to make the right impression just as Artemisia made its premiere at the Toronto film festival.
  "I need to express myself," she says passionately yesterday, adding that she needed to serve the character of 17-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi, the real-life Italian teenager who became a great classical painter despite overwhelming odds in the early 1600s. Historians consider Artemisia the first female painter.
 "I didn't want to think of her as someone bigger than me," Cervi says of her approach to the character. "There is so much written about her in art history I felt confused. I got to the point where I said: `I have to give life to this character.' I didn't want to be overwhelmed by the idea of her. I wanted to see her weakness, I wanted her to be a human being."
 The film, due for commercial release early in 1998, chronicles Artemisia's impossible sexual relationship with an older man, a painter named Agostino Tassi. In the relationship, Artemisia finds herself as a woman and loses herself in controversy that leds to tragedy.
 "In her paintings, I saw the violence of her reaction," says Cervi. "But I could feel the purity of the painting. Sometimes when we are betrayed by life and we are betrayed by people, we create a rage inside of ourselves. But what was wonderful about her is that I felt she didn't have any rage. Her violence is a pure violence. She just transposed her suffering into her paintings, into her art. It was like a very big fire that she was having inside of herself and she was putting it on the paper, on the canvas.
 "This is something that is the truth today too, that a passion can save the night sometimes, a passion can save us from the suffering of life. I felt she was someone who was led by something really spiritual, yet she was weak as well."
 Cervi's passion is acting. Fluent in Italian, French and English (she appeared in a support role speaking English in Jane Campion's A Portrait Of A Lady,) Cervi is the granddaughter of one of Italy's most beloved actors, Gino Cervi, who played the character Peppone in the TV series Don Camillo and appeared in major dramatic films.
 Gino Cervi died two months before Valentina was born, yet she feels a kinship with him and his artistic craft. "I didn't know so much about him. I know he was very loved by the Italian people. Yet every time I think about my grandfather, every time I see a movie with him, there is a connection. It's more inside, it's more primal."
 At the same time, she winces when I suggest her future is film stardom. She can barely watch herself on a screen. "I'm so critical towards myself," she laughs, with a touch of pain.

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