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Bellucci-the girl next door

Rome (Reuters): Short-cropped hair, minimal make-up and inconspicuous clothes: Italian sex symbol Monica Bellucci tries her best to look plain in The Stone Council, a French science fiction thriller presented in Rome. ''The director really wanted me to look ordinary and less Mediterranean,'' Bellucci, her hair grown back to the usual black mane yesterday, told reporters after a press screening of the film by France's Guillaume Nicloux. The movie is Bellucci's second work to premiere at the Rome film festival after N (Napoleon and Me), Italian director Paolo Virzi's comedy about the French emperor, which screened earlier this week. But while there she plays a voluptuous baroness on the Italian island of Elba where Napoleon spent several months in exile, here she stars as a desperate mother whose adopted Mongolian son has been kidnapped by a mystery organisation.

''Actors use their body like a working tool. I am not scared appearing with a few wrinkles or bags under my eyes if that's useful to make the character credible,'' she said. ''The character is interesting because here I am a normal woman who finds this great strength because of her love for her son and is ready to die for him,'' said Bellucci, who took over the role from Sophie Marceau after she reportedly dropped out. ''I like having different roles,'' she said.

Even so, the camera at one point in the film does show the 42-year-old's statuesque naked body, in a scene when an old Mongolian uses magic rites to revive her from unconsciousness. Catherine Deneuve also stars in the film as an unscrupulous scientist, her hair dyed brown to make her look cold and detached. ''I chose them because I liked the idea of having two icons of feminine beauty facing each other,'' Nicloux said. Bellucci has five films in the pipeline for next year, including the lead role in ''Sonia'', the movie about Sonia Gandhi by American-Indian director Jagmohan Mundhra.

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