Soon to be seen on the big screen in Tunisian auteur Ridha Behi's next film The Island of Forgiveness, Italian-Tunisian movie star Claudia Cardinale remains a force to be reckoned with in modern cinema. Refusing to go the way of aging actresses, she sports her unmistakable legendary face in all its beauty, creases and marks. She is an icon, a figure in Italian and French films that all other actresses must submit for comparison to.
Now, Cardinale has a street named after her in La Goulette, the port area of Tunis, where her mother was born in Tunisia and where she gave birth to Claudia Cardinale in 1938. To celebrate her connection to the North African country, authorities on Sunday named a street after her in the suburb of the capital Tunis, where petals were scattered in a ceremony in her honour.
“You marked the world of cinema for almost half a century with your dazzling beauty, your charisma and through the roles you played,” said Amel Limam, the mayor of La Goulette. The area was once home to a large Sicilian community. In fact, before Tunisia’s independence from France in 1956, more than 130,000 Italians were resident and many of their ancestors had settled there before French colonial rule.
The actress admitted: “I still keep a lot of Tunisia inside me, the scenery, the people, sense of welcome, the openness."
Cardinale's career also started in Tunisia, when at 19 she won a beauty contest for “the prettiest Italian,” and her prize brought her to the Venice Film Festival, where her future was secured. After moving to Rome, she was cast in Luchino Visconti’s film The Leopard, alongside French film star Alain Delon and Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster. That was the start of a long career that has continued into her 80s. After starring in The Pink Panther opposite David Niven in 1963, she shot to attention in the United States and Britain.
Cardinale admitted her parents never recovered from their departure from Tunisia, which they experienced as an exile. "It was very hard. My father never wanted to come back, that’s how much he dreaded the pain of what was for him a real heartbreak,” she said. In an era when many Tunisians are willing to risk their lives boarding unseaworthy boats to reach Europe, she stressed the importance of “remembering this shared past to build the future.”
The Island of Forgiveness, currently in post-production, is directed and written by Ridha Behi, co-produced by Nicole Kamato, and Ziad H Hamzeh, shot by DP Newine Behi, with Taoufik Behi as PD.