Meryl Streep Dazzles Crowds at Rome Film Festival

Meryl Streep Photo by Francesca GoriTry as the organisers might to hype up the events aimed at promoting home grown talent, the biggest crowd pullers this year at what is, after all, an international film festival, have been the big Hollywood names. Yesterday was no exception to the rule, with the arrival of one of the greatest actresses of all time and a true movie icon – Meryl Streep – here to present both her latest film Julie & Julia, in which she plays the part of legendary American TV chef Julia Child, and also collect the festival's lifetime achievement prize the Marc'Aurelio Alla Carriera (The Gold Marc'Aurelio Career Award). Following in the footsteps of previous recipients of the award, Sophia Loren and Al Pacino, she appeared on the stage in a packed Sala Sinopoli in conversation with festival stalwarts Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti, in what turned out to be a truly wonderful Encounter with Meryl Streep.

The evening began with a moving documentary about the actor John Cazale - I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale – introduced by the director Richard Shepard. Meryl Streep, who had been engaged to Cazale at the time of his tragically young death from cancer, had specifically requested that the documentary be shown prior to her appearance so that the audience would understand the importance of this man in both her life and on her work as an actress. The five films in which he co-starred - The Godfather, The Godfather II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter – are some of the greatest films ever made and this closer look at Cazale certainly made me want to go back and revisit all of them. There would be no need to ask further questions about their relationship in the following encounter – the film had already said it all - and as the titles rolled, the film was met with loud and respectful applause from the audience.

When Meryl Streep then appeared to rapturous cheers and an instant standing ovation, even the usually unflappable Monda and Sesti seemed momentarily starstruck in her presence, although an intimate conversational atmosphere was quickly established thanks to her warmth and humour. In fact, at the end of the hour or so she was on stage, the sensation one was left with was that of laughter – she irradiated serenity, stunning beauty and intelligence, but most of all, she was very funny and ready to laugh at herself. At one point she was suddenly plagued by strange electronic sounds and interference on her microphone. Joking that she was going to offer herself to NASA because of her importance to science, she went onto explain that computers, iPhones and other devices seem to die on her, and speculated that maybe she had a magnetic force field around her which was causing the interference, adding dryly: or maybe it's the diamonds I'm wearing! After watching a clip from her Oscar-winning performance in Sophie's Choice, and being asked about her ability to perfectly reproduce foreign accents, she blamed that on the magnetic force field too, saying it helped her pick up people's speech and mannerisms!

Having the chance to see Meryl Streep's affectionate impersonation of a mumbling Robert De Niro was priceless, whilst her description of how she reads a script – I look at scripts in the way that actors do: blah blah blah blah blah... ME ME ME... blah blah blah... ME! - brought the house down.

The evening was a mix of conversation and clips from her movies, with the snippets and questions from the hosts acting as a springboard to wider discussion – The Devil Wears Prada, Sophie's Choice, Kramer vs. Kramer, Manhattan, The Deer Hunter, Falling in Love, The Bridges of Madison County were all there, although it was the singing and dancing Meryl Streep in the Dancing Queen sequence from Mamma Mia! that closed the evening to huge cheers.

Seemingly in no hurry to disappear off stage, she stayed as long as the organisers would allow signing autographs for the many fans who rushed the stage at the end of the encounter.

Photograph of Meryl Streep © Francesca Gori

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