Nationality: Italian. Born: Naples, 15 November 1922. Education: Studied law, Naples University. Military Service: 1942. Career: Radio journalist in Naples, early 1940s; worked in theatre as actor, stage designer, and assistant director, Rome, from 1946; assistant director and script collaborator, through 1956, also dubbing director for Italian versions of foreign films; directed first film, La sfida, 1957. Awards: Special Jury Prize, Venice Festival, for La sfida, 1958; Silver Bear for Best Direction, Berlin Festival, for Salvatore Giuliano, 1963; Golden Lion, Venice Festival, for Le mani sulla città, 1963.
Films as Director and Co-Scriptwriter:
La sfida (The Challenge)
Le mani sulla città (Hands over the City)
Il momento della verità (The Moment of Truth) (co-d)
C'era una volta (More than a Miracle)
Il caso Mattei (The Mattei Affair)
Cadaveri eccelenti (Illustrious Corpses)
Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli)
Tre fratelli (Three Brothers)
Carmen (Bizet's Carmen)
Cronaca di una morte annunciata (Chronicle of a Death Foretold)
Dimenticare Palermo (To Forget Palermo)
La Tregua (The Truce)
La terra trema (Visconti) (asst d)
La domenica d'agosto (Emmer) (asst d)
Tormento (Matarazzo) (asst d)
I figli di nessuno (Matarazzo) (asst d); Parigi e sempre parigi (Emmer) (asst d, co-sc); Bellissima (Visconti) (asst, co-sc)
Camicie Rosse (supervised post-production after director Goffredo Alessandri abandoned project); I vinti (Antonioni) (asst d); Processo alla città (Zampa) (sc)
Carosello Napoletano (Giannini) (asst d); Proibito (Monicelli) (asst d); Senso (Visconti) (asst d)
Racconti Romani (Franciolini) (co-sc)
Il bigamo (Emmer) (asst d, co-sc)
By ROSI: articles—
Interview with Gideon Bachmann, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1965.
"Moments of Truth," an interview with John Lane, in Films andFilming (London), September 1970.
Interviews with Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), January 1974, February 1979, and March 1990.
Interview with Gary Crowdus, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 7, no. 1, 1975.
Interviews in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1976 and Winter 1981/82.
"Un Débat d'idées, de mentalités, de moralités," in Avant-Scéne duCinéma (Paris), May 1976.
"Sono lo psicologo del film e non del personaggio," an interview with F. Durazzo Baker, in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), October 1979.
"Personalizing Political Issues," an interview with Gary Crowdus, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 12, no. 2, 1982.
Interview with M. Kimmel, in Films in Review (New York), May 1982.
"Chronicle of a Film Foretold," an interview with Michel Ciment, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1986/87.
"Guardian Lecture with Francesco Rosi," an interview with D. Malcolm, in Film (London), April/May 1988.
"Filmare Palermo," an interview with A. Piersanti, in Rivista ddelCeinematografo (Rome), July/August 1992.
"Le kid at La Terra Tremble," in Positif (Paris), June 1994.
"Et Dourant, Naples est une ville legere," an interview with Philippe Piazzo, in Télérama (Paris), 29 June 1994.
"Il etait une fois le cinema," in Positif (Paris), July/August 1994.
Interview with Howard Feinstein, in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1995.
"Fellini Absent," in Positif (Paris), July/August 1995.
Interview with L. Codelli, in Positif (Paris), November 1997.
On ROSI: books—
Michalczyk, John J., The Italian Political Filmmakers, Cranbury, New Jersey, 1986.
Ciment, Michel, editor, Le Dossier Rosi, Paris, 1987.
Gesu, Sebastiano, Francesco Rosi, Italy, 1991.
Testa, Carlo, editor, Poet of Civic Courage, Westport, 1996.
On ROSI: articles—
Lane, John, "A Neapolitan Eisenstein," in Films and Filming (London), August 1963.
Rosi Section of Image et Son (Paris), June/July 1976.
Alemanno, R., "Da Rosi a Petri todo modo dentro il contesto," in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), July/August 1976.
Rosi Section of Thousand Eyes (New York), November 1976.
Rosi Section of Positif (Paris), May 1980.
"Francesco Rosi Issue" of Cinéma (Zurich), vol. 28, no. 2, 1982.
"Tre fratelli Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 June 1982.
Ciment, Michel, "Rosi in a New Key," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), September 1984.
Lennon, Peter, "A 'Cinema Fanatic' with a Social Conscience," in Listener (London), 14 May 1987.
Rosi Sections of Positif (Paris), May and June 1987.
Crowdus, Gary, "Francesco Rosi: Italy's Postmodern Neorealist," in Cineaste (New York), October 1994.
Klawans, Stuart, "Illustrious Rosi," in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1995.
Calderale, M., in Segnocinema (Vicenza), March/April 1997.
Gili, Jean A., Lorenzo Codelli, and Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), November 1997.
Mancino, A.G., and S. Zambetti, in Castoro Cinema, March 1998.
* * *
The films of Francesco Rosi stand as an urgent riposte to any proposal of aesthetic puritanism as a sine qua non of engaged filmmaking. From Salvatore Giuliano to Illustrious Corpses and Chronicle of a Death Foretold, he uses a mobilisation of the aesthetic potential of the cinema not to decorate his tales of corruption, complicity, and death, but to illuminate and interrogate the reverberations these events cause. If one quality were to be isolated as especially distinctive and characteristic it would have to be the sense of intellectual passion, of direction propelled by an impassioned sense of inquiry. This can be true in a quite literal way in Salvatore Giuliano, in which any "suspense" accruing to Giuliano's death is put aside in favour of a search for another kind of knowledge; and The Mattei Affair, in which the soundtrack amasses evidence which is presented virtually in opposition to the images before us; or, in a more metaphoric sense, Christ Stopped at Eboli, which represents an inquiry into the social conditions of the South of Italy.
Rosi traces the evolution of his style to his early experience as an assistant on Rosselini's Terra Trema, where he learnt the value of immediacy, improvisation, and the use of non-professional performers. It was a mode of filmmaking that suited the exploration of concerns found within a particular current in Italian thought. It finds expression in the writings of Carlo Levi and Leonardo Sciascia, both of whom deal with the issue of the South and both of whose work Rosi has adapted for the screen, along with, latterly, that of Primo Levi. It is a current that also finds political expression in the work of Antonio Gamsci. Rosi's films are perhaps above all the films of an industrialising Italy, the Italy of Fiat, that exists dialectically with that of the peasant South.
Throughout his work there is an abiding interest in the social conditions in which individuals live their lives and their expression at the public or civic level, licit or illicit. Concern with organised crime and its social roots—though free from any taint of sociologizing—appears as a major thread through films as diverse as Salvatore Giuliano, Hands over the City, The Mattei Affair, Lucky Luciano, and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Although Rosi uses the appurtenances of the thriller or the gangster film (in Lucky Luciano, for instance), his interests, as Michel Ciment has pointed out, are not at all with whodunnit but with what the crime reveals about the social context of individual lives. Lucky Luciano, for example, is not (unlike The Godfather) in the business of creating monsters but of creating a way of understanding the men who are thus mythologised. It is a tribute to Rosi's virtuosity and commitment that the trajectory he describes is not a whit less exciting.
He may examine the mesh of the individual and his context from the point-of-view of the public sphere (Illustrious Corpses) or the private (Three Brothers or Christ Stopped at Eboli). The issue might be the ruthless mechanics of market forces in Hands over the City, or the process whereby the Mafia is set in place in The Mattei Affair. But above all Rosi remains a pre-eminent craftsman of the cinema in his acute and responsive relationship with his regular or occasional collaborators, especially with his cinematographers and musicians. Of recent films, Forget Palermo was criticised for superficiality and some awkwardness in its casting of James Belushi. Rosi argues that its initially touristical mode was part of its point. The film follows an American "man of power" to his Sicilian roots. His honeymoon trip cannot be innocent of political implications and the tangled web of drugs and finance is meticulously revealed.
Neapolitan Diary was a more personal exploration of the same theme, taking Rosi himself back to the city of his birth and back to the location for Hands over the City. It is harsh and lucid, but never without hope of change, not even in bleak interviews with school-aged drug dealers. The South, urges Rosi, is not other than Italy but the place where the nation's problems outcrop most painfully. Primo Levi's The Truce, the subject of Rosi's most recent film, follows the homeward journey of a mixed group of Auschwitz prisoners. In it Rosi has said he sees a foreshadowing of the tensions that have frighteningly emerged in Europe since the fall of the Wall.
If his most recent films may be less wholly satisfying than, say, the urgent definitiveness of Hands over the City, or less rigorously aesthetic than Illustrious Corpses, they still reveal a rare and vital intellectual commitment to cinema as a platform for debate and testimony—a form, he has said, of active participation in public life.