Riccardo Cassano

Scen.: Riccardo Cassano. F.: Ottorino Tedeschini. Int.: Elena Makowska (Lady Diana Hamilton), Alberto Pasquali, Camillo De Rossi, Giuseppe Majone-Diaz. Prod.: Medusa. DCP. D.: 23’. Col. (from tinted and toned nitrate).

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Luigi Comencini rescued Elena Makowska from oblivion in 1953 with La valigia dei sogni. A beautiful 60-yearold at that time, she played herself with understated efficacy. Invited by a baroness to a reception with a fiery surprise, she has to endure a screening of selected clips of Italian silent films, including her appearance in Il fiacre n. 13 (1917). The audience pays no attention to the projectionist/presenter who recalls how crowds once swooned over the woman who was the “embodiment of the enigma of the Slavic soul”. Indeed, the audience laughs at the melodramatic style, which is incapable of moving them emotionally. At first, the grey-haired ex-diva acts wise and understanding (“they are young”), but then she feels humiliated and collapses on a sofa proclaiming: “It is like seeing the dead come back to life.” If that’s the case, then we can’t wait, even at the cost of restoring a film that is crippled, tattered and attacked by chemical decay.
Between 1915 and 1920, Makowska appeared in about 40 Italian productions. Historians usually overlook La tartaruga, preferring to cite her roles in other films: Romanticismo, La fiaccola sotto il moggio, La Gioconda, Rodolfi’s Amleto, Genina’s first Addio giovinezza, La Dame en gris. Born in Ukraine to a Polish family (real name: Helena Woyniewicz), she quickly left her first marriage behind to take singing lessons in Milan and debut at the opera house, before becoming a success on the big screen. With the crisis of Italian cinema well underway, in the early 1920s she left the country looking for roles in Germany and Poland. In the meantime, she had married an Englishman, and when the Nazis invaded Poland she was arrested and imprisoned for four years in a concentration camp. Released as part of a prisoner exchange, she acted in the Polish army’s theatre ensemble. She then returned to Italy, where she died in 1964. La tartaruga captures the changing expressions of her face following a twist of fate that breaks a promise. That promise is enclosed in a turtle-shaped pendant that Lady Hamilton, Makowska’s character, keeps around her neck as an eternal reminder after her husband’s death: as the reptile retracts its head into its shell to escape from “barking dogs” (not exactly a kind description of her foolish suitors), she hides her own heart. But as soon as we see the violinist pick up his instrument and enchant her with the melodies of Jules Massenet, we know that sooner or later that pendant will be torn off. And she will have to fight to keep her balance on the slippery rocks of life, in high heels.

Andrea Meneghelli

Copy From

Restored in 2022 by Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, from a largely incomplete 35mm positive nitrate print (467 metres compared to the film’s original length of 1455)