“Beautiful Rebel”, biopic of Gianna Nannini

TORONTO – Well before Gianna Nannini, with her raspy rock vocals, belted out these evocative lyrics for the Italia ’90 anthem, she was entertaining global audiences with her edgy, melodic pop rock – Italian style. Her unique personality and her music always carried the sent of rebellion, always a whisper of dissatisfaction and a morose quality, which according the film drove her creative pursuits forward. 

Recently premiered on Netflix, “Beautiful Rebel” stars newcomer Letizia Toni as the legendary musician. Much like Nannini when she first moved to Milano and signed with record label Ricordi, Toni seems to have suddenly burst onto the scene of Italian cinema – and with an absolute scorcher of a performance. It’s hard to believe that Toni only earned the role after competing with two thousands applicants over three lengthy auditions, and without immediately knowing what the audition was for.

“Beautiful Rebel” keeps a steady pace as it chronicles the first thirty years of Nannini’s life, including her early childhood. Tension gradually rises between Nannini and her well-intentioned yet stern father, played brilliantly by Maurizio Lombardi. The initial conflict: Gianna’s musical gift is quelled by her father’s plans to make her into a tennis star. Their relationship, according to the script which Nannini co-wrote, would go on to inspire much of her adolescent rebellion. Fortunately what the film doesn’t do is vilify her father – or anyone for that matter – who throughout the journey [justifiably or not] demanded more from the singer. We meet agents, producers, lovers and friends who take turns pushing Nannini’s buttons, and in most cases doing so with a genuine effort to help.

Nannini succumbs to drug abuse, pushes her friends away and antagonizes her collaborators, all while suffering beneath the surface from an undiagnosed mental illness.

“Beautiful Rebel” is far from a vanity project, as the iconic singer and her creative collaborators never paint a rosy picture of her rise to stardom – and that’s the charm of this biopic.

While the film’s Italian title “Sei Nell’Anima” translates to “you are in my soul”, Netflix’s English title “Beautiful Rebel” perhaps asserts an even bigger message – that the soul’s code is worth fighting for. Speaking to an interviewer about where she summons her courage, Nannini had this to say, “Because I have always listened to myself. Not listening to how I sing, as many do….but there is the saying to not listen but actually feel. This listening to oneself means feeling, and I was then guided by intuition. I am guided by instinct. This has been my life. Follow your instinct”.

If nothing else, this biopic will have many Italians wondering how much of Nannini’s soul went into that enchanting World Cup anthem lyric: “Ma voglio viverla così quest’avventura, senza frontiere e con il cuore in gola”.

Watch “Beautiful Rebel” on Netflix

Massimo Volpe is a filmmaker and freelance writer from Toronto: he writes reviews of Italian films/content on Netflix