Rossellini, Roberto

views updated May 17 2018


Nationality: Italian. Born: Rome, 8 May 1906. Family: Married
1) Marcella de Marquis (marriage annulled), two children; 2) actress Ingrid Bergman, 1950 (divorced), three children, including actress Isabella; 3) screenwriter Somali Das Gupta (divorced), one son. Career: Worked on films, in dubbing and sound effects, then as editor, from 1934; directed first feature, La nave bianca, 1940; technical director in official film industry, while simultaneously shooting documentary footage of Italian resistance fighters, 1940–45; accepted offer from Howard Hughes to make films for RKO with Ingrid Bergman in Hollywood, 1946; apparently fell out of public favour over scandal surrounding relationships with Bergman and later Das Gupta; television director of documentaries, 1960s. Died: 4 June 1977, in Rome, Italy, of heart attack.

Films as Director:


Daphne (+ sc)


Prelude à l'apres-midi d'une faune (+ sc)


Fantasia sottomarina (+ sc); Il tacchino prepotente (+ sc); La vispa Teresa (+ sc)


Il Ruscello di Ripasottile (+ sc); La nave bianca (+ co-sc)


Un pilota ritorna (+ co-sc); I tre aquilotta (uncredited collaboration)


L'uomo della croce (+ co-sc); L'invasore (+ supervised production, sc); Desiderio (+ co-sc) (confiscated by police and finished by Marcello Pagliero in 1946)


Roma, città aperta (Rome, Open City) (+ co-sc)


Paisà (Paisan) (+ co-sc, pr)


Germania, anno zero (Germany, Year Zero) (+ co-sc) L'amore (Woman, Ways of Love) (+ sc); Il miracolo (The Miracle) (+ co-sc); La macchina ammazzacattivi (+ co-sc, pr); Stromboli, terra di dio (Stromboli) (+ co-sc, pr)


Francesco—giullare di Dio (Flowers of St. Francis) (+ co-sc)


"L'Invidia" episode of I sette peccati capitali (The Seven Deadly Sins) (+ co-sc); Europa '51 (The Greatest Love) (+ co-sc)


Dov'è la libertà (+ co-sc); Viaggio in Italia (Voyage to Italy,Strangers); The Lonely Woman (+ co-sc); "Ingrid Bergman" episode of Siamo donne


"Napoli '43" episode of Amori di mezzo secolo (+ sc); Giovanna d'Arco al rogo (Joan of Arc at the Stake) (+ sc); Die Angst (Le Paura; Fear); Orient Express (+ sc, production supervision)


L'India vista da Rossellini (ten episodes) (+ sc, pr); India (+ co-sc)


Il Generale della Rovere (+ co-sc)


Era notte a Roma (+ co-sc); Viva l'Italia (+ co-sc)


Vanina Vanini (The Betrayer) (+ co-sc); Torino nei centi'anni; Benito Mussolini (Blood on the Balcony) (+ sc, production supervision)


Anima nera (+ sc); "Illibatezza" episode of Rogopag (+ sc)


La Prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV (The Rise of Louis XIV)


Idea di un'isola (+ pr, sc)


Atti degli apostoli (co-d, co-sc, ed)


Socrate (Socrates) (+ co-sc, ed)


Agostino di Ippona


Blaise Pascal; Anno uno


Il Messia (The Messiah) (+ co-sc)

Other Films:


Luciano Serra, pilota (sc)


Le carabiniere (co-sc)


L'eta del ferro (sc, pr)


La lotta dell'uomo per la sua sopravvivenza (sc, pr)



Era notte a Roma, with others, Bologna, 1961.

Le Cinéma révélé, edited by Alain Bergala, Paris, 1984.

Il mio metodo: Scritti e intervisti, edited by Adriano Apra, Venice, 1987.

Quasi un autobiografie, Milan, 1987.

By ROSSELLINI: articles—

"Paisà: Sixth Sketch," with others, in Bianco e Nero (Rome), October 1947.

Interview with Francis Koval, in Sight and Sound (London), February 1951.

"Coloquio sul neo-realismo," with Mario Verdone, in Bianco e Nero (Rome), February 1952.

Interview with Maurice Schèrer and François Truffaut, in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), July 1954.

"Dix ans de cinéma," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), August/September and November 1955, and January 1956.

"Cinema and Television: Interview," with André Bazin, in Sight andSound (London), Winter 1958/59.

"Censure et culture," in Cinéma (Paris), October 1961.

"Conversazione sulla cultura e sul cinema," in Filmcritica (Rome), March 1963.

"Intervista con Roberto Rossellini," with Adriano Aprá and Maurizio Ponzi, in Filmcritica (Rome), April/May 1965.

Interview with Jean Collet and Claude-Jean Philippe, in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), September 1966.

"Conversazione con Roberto Rossellini," with Michele Mancin, Renato Tomasino, and Lello Maiello, in Filmcritica (Rome), August 1968.

"La decisione di Isa," in Bianco e Nero (Rome), January/March 1985.

"Rossellini a neorealizmusrol," an interview with M. Verdone, in Filmkultura (Budapest), vol. 26, no. 1, 1990.


Hovald, Patrice, Roberto Rossellini, Paris, 1958.

Steele, Joseph Henry, Ingrid Bergman: An Intimate Portrait, New York, 1959.

Mida, Massimo, Roberto Rossellini, Parma, 1961.

Verdone, Mario, Roberto Rossellini, Paris, 1963.

Guarner, José Luis, Roberto Rossellini, translated by Elizabeth Cameron, New York, 1970.

Baldelli, Pio, Roberto Rossellini, Rome, 1972.

Menon, Gianni, Dibattio su Rossellini, Rome, 1972.

Rondolino, Gianni, Roberto Rossellini, Florence, 1974.

Ranvaud, Don, Roberto Rossellini, London, 1981.

Cahiers du Cinéma 1, The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, NewWave, edited by Jim Hillier, London, 1985.

Serceau, Michel, Roberto Rossellini, Paris, 1986.

Aprà, Adriano, Rosselliniana, Rome, 1987.

Brunette, Peter, Roberto Rossellini, Oxford, 1987.

Gansera, Rainer, and others, Roberto Rossellini, Munich, 1987.

Rossi, Patrizio, Roberto Rossellini: A Guide to References andResources, Boston, 1988.

Bergala, Alain, and Jean Narboni, editors, Roberto Rossellini, Paris, 1990.

Bondanella, Peter, The Films of Roberto Rossellini (Cambridge FilmClassics), New York, 1993.

Gallagher, Tag, The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini, New York, 1998.

On ROSSELLINI: articles—

Venturi, Lauro, "Roberto Rossellini," in Hollywood Quarterly, Fall 1949.

Harcourt-Smith, Simon, "The Stature of Rossellini," in Sight andSound (London), April 1950.

Truffaut, François, "Rossellini," in Arts (Paris), January 1955.

Rivette, Jacques, "Lettre sur Rossellini," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1955.

Fieschi, Jean-André, "Dov'e Rossellini?," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1962.

Sarris, Andrew, "Rossellini Rediscovered," in Film Culture (New York), no. 32, 1964.

Casty, Alan, "The Achievement of Roberto Rossellini," in FilmComment (New York), Fall 1964.

Aprà, Adriano, "Le nouvel âge de Rossellini," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), August 1965.

"Roma, città aperta Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1971.

MacBean, J.R., "Rossellini's Materialist Mise-en-Scene," in FilmQuarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1971/72.

"Rossellini Issue" of Screen (London), Winter 1973/74.

Norman, L., "Rossellini's Case Histories for Moral Education," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1974.

Wood, Robin, "Rossellini," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1974.

"Rossellini Issue" of Filmcritica (Rome), May/June 1976.

Walsh, M., "Rome, Open City; The Rise to Power of Louis XIV: Reevaluating Rossellini," in Jump Cut (Chicago), no. 15, 1977.

Hughes, J., "In Memoriam: Roberto Rossellini," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1977.

Lawton, H., "Rossellini's Didactic Cinema," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1978.

Ranvaud, Don, "Documentary and Dullness: Rossellini according to the British Critic," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), February 1981.

Brunette, Peter, "Rossellini and Cinematic Realism," in CinemaJournal (Champaign, Illinois), Fall 1985.

"Viaggio in Italia Issue" of Avant-Scéne du Cinéma (Paris), June 1987.

Tournès, A., "Rossellini: Le courage d'être humblement un homme," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), January/February 1988.

Gallagher, Tag, "Rossellini, Neo-Realism, and Croce," in FilmHistory (Philadelphia), vol. 2, no. 1, 1988.

Truffaut, François, and others, "Roberto Rossellini," in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), July/August 1988.

Douchet, J., "Rossellini ou l'évidence," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1990.

Nascimbene, Mario, "Il mio lavoro con Roberto Rossellini," in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), July-October 1991.

Wagstaff, Chris, "True Stories," in Sight and Sound (London), August 1993.

Aristarco, Guido, "Bazin, Rossellini, les néoréalismes et moi," in Cinémaction (Courbevoie), January 1994.

Serceau, Michel, "La ville dans le néoréalisme," in Cinémaction (Courbevoie), April 1995.

Marocco, P., "Secondo Internet," in Filmcritica (Siena), January/February 1997.

Meder, T., "The Historiographer of the '40s," in Blimp (Graz), no. 37, 1997.

Gallagher, Tag, "Neorealism?: Roberto Rossellini och teorierna om neorealismen," in Filmhäftet (Stockholm), vol. 26, no. 101, 1998.

* * *

Roberto Rossellini has been so closely identified with the rise of the postwar Italian style of filmmaking known as neorealism that it would be a simple matter to neatly pigeonhole him as merely a practitioner of that technique and nothing more. So influential has that movement been that the achievement embodied in just three of his films—Roma, città aperta; Paisà; and Germania, anno zero—would be enough to secure the director a major place in film history. To label Rossellini simply a neorealist, however, is to drastically undervalue his contribution to the thematic aspects of his art.

At its most basic level, Rossellini's dominant concern appears to be a preoccupation with the importance of the individual within various aspects of the social context that emerged from the ashes of World War II. In his early films, which a number of historians have simplistically termed fascist, his concern for the individual was not balanced by an awareness of their social context. Thus, a film like his first feature, La nave bianca, while it portrays its sailors and hospital personnel as sensitive and caring, ignores their ideological and political milieu. It is Roma, città aperta, despite its carry-over of the director's penchant for melodrama, that is properly considered Rossellini's "rite of passage" into the midst of the complex social issues confronting the individual in postwar Europe. The crude conditions under which it was shot, its authentic appearance, and certain other naturalistic touches lent it an air of newsreel-like veracity, but its raw power was derived almost entirely from the individuals that Rossellini placed within this atmospheric context. With the exception of Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi, the cast was made up of non-professionals who were so convincing that the effect upon viewers was electric. Many were certain that what they were viewing must have been filmed as it was actually occurring.

Despite legends about how Rossellini's neorealistic style arose as a result of the scarcity of resources and adverse shooting conditions that were present immediately after the war, the director had undoubtedly begun to conceive the style as early as his aborted Desiderio of 1943, a small-scale forerunner of neorealism which Rossellini dropped in mid-shooting. Certainly, he continued the style in Paisà and Germania anno zero, the remaining parts of his war trilogy. In both of these features, he delineates the debilitating effects of war's aftermath on the psyche of modern man. The latter film was a particularly powerful statement on the effect of Nazi ideology on the mind of a young boy, in part because it simultaneously criticizes the failure of traditional social institutions like the church to counter fascism's corrupting influence.

The Rossellini films of the 1950s shed many of the director's neorealistic trappings. In doing so he shifted his emphasis somewhat to the spiritual aspects of man, revealing the instability of life and of human relationships. Stromboli, Europa '51, Voyage to Italy, and La paura reflect a quest for a transcendent truth akin to the secular saintliness achieved by the priest in Open City. In the 1950s films, however, his style floated unobtrusively between involvement and contemplation.

This is particularly obvious in his films with Ingrid Bergman, but is best exemplified by Voyage to Italy with its leisurely paced questioning of the very meaning of life. Every character in the film is ultimately in search of his soul. What little action there is has relatively little importance since most of the character development is an outgrowth of spiritual aspirations rather than a reaction to events. In this sense, its structure resembled the kind of neorealism practiced by De Sica in Umberto D (without the excessively emotional overtones) and yet reaffirms Rossellini's concern for his fellow men and for Italy. At the same time, through his restriction of incident, he shapes the viewer's empathy for his characters by allowing the viewer to participate in the film only to the extent of being companion to the various characters. The audience is intellectually free to wander away from the story, which it undoubtedly does, only to find its involvement in the character's spiritual development unchanged since its sympathy is not based upon the physical actions of a plot.

Such an intertwining of empathetic involvement of sorts with a contemplative detachment carried over into Rossellini's historical films of the 1960s and 1970s. His deliberately obtrusive use of zoom lenses created in the viewer of such films as Viva l'Italia and Agostino di Ippona a delicate distancing and a constant but subtle awareness that the director's point of view was inescapable. Such managing of the viewer's consciousness of the historical medium turns his characters into identifiable human beings who, though involving our senses and our emotions, can still be scrutinized from a relatively detached vantage point.

This, then, is the seeming contradiction central to Rossellini's entire body of work. As most precisely exemplified in his early, pure neorealistic films, his camera is relentlessly fixed on the physical aspects of the world around us. Yet, as defined by his later works, which both retain and modify much of this temporal focus, the director is also trying to capture within the same lens an unseen and spiritual landscape. Thus, the one constant within all of his films must inevitably remain his concern for fundamental human values and aspirations, whether they are viewed with the anger and immediacy of a Roma, città aperta or the detachment of a Viaggio in Italia.

—Stephen L. Hanson

Roberto Rossellini

views updated Jun 11 2018

Roberto Rossellini

Director Roberto Rossellini (1906-1977) was responsible for revitalizing Italian cinema after World War II with his neo-realist films, especially Roma, Citta Aperta ( Rome, Open City; 1945). After a long, somewhat uneven career in cinema, Rossellini spent his last creative years working in television, one of the first important film directors to do so.

Rossellini was born on May 8, 1906, in Rome, Italy, into a wealthy family. His father was an architect. Rossellini and his siblings, including brother Renzo who later became a composer and scored many of his brother's films, were raised by nannies. Rossellini was primarily educated by tutors and did not attend university. As a young man, he became interested in film and contributed pieces to Cinema, a film magazine.

Rossellini began working in the film industry in 1934, learning every aspect from screenwriting to editing and dubbing. He soon began making his own films, spending a year, 1937-38, writing and directing the amateur production, Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune. The film was subsequently banned by Italian censors when Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, controlled the government. Rossellini got his first screen credit on a propaganda film, Luciano Serra, Pilota (1938), that was produced by the dictator's son, Vittorio Mussolini. Rossellini wrote the film and directed some of its sequences.

By 1940, Rossellini was working in the government-sanctioned film industry as a technical director. On the side, however, he shot footage of Italian resistance fighters for his own purposes. Rossellini directed three key films in the early 1940s, ostensibly under the authority of the Fascist government. Thus, these early works were labeled Fascist in sympathies. The first, Rossellini's true directorial debut was La Nave Bianca ( The White Ship; 1941). The movie began as a documentary project, but developed into a fiction film with amateur actors, a hallmark of Rossellini's later work. La Nave Bianca transcends politics and ideology to portray sailors and hospital workers as sympathetic. Completing this trilogy of war films was Un pilota ritorna ( A Pilot Returns; 1942) and L'umomo della croce ( The Man of the Cross; 1943).

Established International Reputation

In 1945, Rossellini made what was arguably his most important film and the epitome of neo-realism, Roma, Citta Aperta ( Rome, Open City ). He had begun writing the film when the Nazis occupied Italy in 1943. To finish, he had to sell some of his own belongings so that he could buy short ends of film stock. Rossellini again used amateur performers, as well as real locations and a crude documentary-like black and white photography. All of these elements defined neo-realism as a film movement, and Roma, Citta Aperta reignited the lagging Italian film industry. The film was not popular in Italy at the time, though it was in the United States and France. To get Roma, Citta Aperta to the U.S., Rossellini was forced to sell it for next to nothing to an American soldier. The soldier took it home and sold it to Joseph Bustyn. It was then shown in New York City for the next two years.

On the basis of Roma, Citta Aperta, Hollywood producer David O. Selznick offered Rossellini a contract to direct seven films in 1946. Rossellini rejected the offer, preferring to work in Italy. Ironically, while his next films were neo-realistic, they were criticized for incorporating Hollywood-type narratives and a melodramatic plot. These films were also about World War II and its effect on Italy, as was Roma, Citta Aperta. The first was Paisa ( Paisan; 1946), a film which many critics believe to be one of his best. Comprised of six distinct episodes, it depicts the Allied capture of the whole of Italy from the Germans, including many moments of human kindness.

The last of this wartime trilogy, Germania, anno zero ( Germany, Year Zero; (1947), was also powerful. As was done for the other two films, Rossellini co-wrote the script. In Germania, anno zero, he explores how the Nazi doctrines corrupt a child's mind. The film also condemns social institutions like the Catholic Church for their failure to act in opposition to this authority.

Not all of Rossellini's films in this time period were about war. In 1947, he made L'Amore, a film in two contrasting parts starring his then-lover, actress Anna Magnani. The first part was entitled "The Human Voice," a monologue in which a woman tries to maintain a phone conversation with an obviously disinterested lover. "The Miracle," concerns an unsophisticated peasant woman who becomes pregnant by a man who she is convinced is St. Joseph. She believes she is carrying the son of God. As with many of Rossellini's films, L'Amore is an exploration of the concepts of truth and humanity. In 1947, Rossellini temporarily left Italy to finish post-production on these and other of his World War II-era films.

Became Involved with Ingrid Bergman

In 1948, Rossellini received a letter that would change his life. Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman, whose career had been faltering after the end of a contract with David O. Selznick, wrote the Italian director that she wanted to be in one of his films. Rossellini was writing a script at the time with Anna Magnani in mind, but rewrote it for Bergman. The script was for the film Stromboli (1949). During the filming, Rossellini and Bergman began having an affair and Bergman became pregnant. At the time, Rossellini was still married to Marcella De Marquis, with whom he had two sons, Renzino and Romano (who later died). He was also involved with Magnani. Bergman was married to Petter Lindstrom, with whom she had a daughter, Pia. Rossellini had his first marriage annulled, and Bergman divorced her spouse after the birth of their son, Roberto Guisto Guiseppe, in 1950. Two years later, they had twin daughters, Isabella Fiorella Elettra Giovanna (who became an actress and model) and Isotta Ingrid Frieda Giuliana.

Despite their subsequent marriage, the affair was a huge international scandal and caused the professional reputations of both Rossellini and Bergman to suffer. The press constantly harassed the couple. Bergman was essentially ostracized by Hollywood for seven years, and denounced as "evil" on the floor of the United States Senate. Although she starred in six Rossellini films, none were financial successes and most had questionable artistic merit, according to critics. Stromboli was arguably the best. Backed by funds provided by Howard Hughes and RKO Studios, Stromboli portrayed Bergman as a Lithuanian refugee who marries an Italian fisherman only as a convenience. The film explores her reaction to living in a harsh environment, a volcanic island off the coast of Sicily, including the physical and psychological cruelties of the backwards community.

Other Rossellini/Bergman collaborations included Europa '51 ( The Greatest Love; 1952). In this film, which was co-written by Rossellini, Bergman played a superficial mother who feels intense contrition after her child commits suicide. After she finds comfort in helping the poor and ill, her husband incarcerates her in an asylum. Panned at the time of its release, Viaggio in Italia ( Voyage in Italy; 1953) became a cult film years after its release. Some regarded it as the embodiment of Rossellini's filmmaking methodology. The simple plot gave Rossellini an opportunity to use much documentary footage of Italy. In Viaggio in Italia, Bergman plays an English woman who go to Naples to sell a home as her marriage is at an end. Rossellini used the film to question the meaning of life. Some believe that Bergman's performance represented a repressed wife trying to come to terms with the horror of emptiness.

Bergman played a similar role in Rossellini's La paura (1954) ( Fear or Angst; 1954). Her character is a German wife, who is miserable and has affairs. She leaves her husband. At the time of its release, this film was not considered to be an artistic success. In retrospect, opinions have improved. In all of these films, Rossellini looked inside his characters, at their spiritual lives. Many also used elements of expressionism. Despite his box office failures and Bergman's floundering career, Rossellini would not let his wife make movies with anyone else until 1955. By 1956, they had separated. The marriage was annulled a year later.

One reason for the failure of Rossellini's marriage to Bergman was that he continued to see other women, including Indian screenwriter Somali Das Gupta. The couple, who had a common law marriage, produced a child, Paola Raffaella Maria. This relationship caused another scandal. In 1958, Rossellini made a documentary about her native country entitled India. The film was not well received at the box office, but was given some critical acclaim.

Rossellini's last successful film was General Della Rovere (1959). He would later regret having made the film, despite the fact that it boosted his sagging reputation and won several awards. It used many of the same ideas as his successful neo-realist films. The story was set during World War II and focused on the Italian Resistance. Rossellini did the same with Era Notte A Roma (1960), though with limited interest from audiences and critics alike.

After several more films, including two about the history of Italy, Viva l'Italia (1960) and Vanina Vanini (1961), Rossellini essentially ended his film career. By the mid-1960s, he had become a living legend in the minds of critics and filmmakers alike. Rossellini did not make a specifically commercial film for the rest of his life. Television became his preferred medium, using it to explore science and history. He made several miniseries such as L'Ete del Ferro ( The Age of Iron 1964) and Atti Degli Apostoli ( The Acts of the Apostles or The Deeds of the Apostles; 1968). The latter was a six-hour production using locations in Tunis to delineate the story of Jesus Christ.

By the 1970s, Rossellini made biographies of historical figures for Italian television, including Agostino di Ippona ( Saint Augustine of Hippo; 1970), Socrate ( Socrates; 1970), Pascal (1971), and Descartes, (1974). In these biographies, Rossellini attempted to make these distant figures seem more accessible. Rossellini made his last fiction film in 1974, Anno Uno ( Year One ). His last commercial film was 1977's Il Messia ( The Messiah ). Like his classic neo-realist films, Il Messia used amateur performers. Rossellini was planning a film on philosopher and theorist, Karl Marx, when he suffered a heart attack, and died in Rome on June 4, 1977.

Further Reading

Cassell Companion to Cinema, Cassell, 1997.

Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, edited by Richard Roud, The Viking Press, 1980.

International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers-2: Directors, third edition, edited by Laurie Collier Hillstrom, St. James Press, 1997.

Thomson, David, A Biographical Dictionary of Film, third edition, Alfred A. Knopf. 1994.

The New York Times, September 13, 1987.

People Weekly, January 13, 1986; January 20, 1986.

Variety, June 8, 1977. □

Rossellini, Roberto

views updated May 14 2018

Rossellini, Roberto (1906–77) Italian film director and producer. His post-war films, such as Open City (1945), were landmarks in post-war Italian neo-realism. During the 1950s he made a series of films with his wife, Ingrid Bergman, such as Stromboli (1949).

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