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TitleThe Films of Roberto Rossellini (Cambridge Film Classics)
ISBN 139780521392365
CategoryArts - Film
Author
LanguageEnglish
File Size30.9 MB
Total Pages200
Document Text Contents
Page 2

The Films of Roberto Rossellini traces the career of one of the most influ-
ential Italian filmmakers through close analysis of the seven films that mark
important turning points in his evolution: The Man with a Cross (1943),
Open City (1945), Ptisan (1946), The Machine to Kill Bad People (1948-
52), Voyage in Italy (1953), General Delia Rovere (1959), and The Rise to
Power of Louis XIV (1966). Beginning with Rossellini's work within the
fascist cinema, it discusses his fundamental contributions to neorealism, a
new cinematic style that resulted in several classics during the immediate
postwar period. Almost immediately, however, Rossellini's continually
evolving style moved beyond mere social realism to reveal other aspects of
the camera's gaze, as is apparent in the films he made with Ingrid Bergman
during the 1950s; though unpopular, these works had a tremendous impact
on the French New Wave critics and directors. Rossellini's late career marks
a return to his neorealist period, now critically reexamined, in such works
as the commercially successful General Delia Rovere, and his eventual turn
to the creation of didactic films for television. Emphasizing Rossellini's
relationship to cinematic realism, The Films of Roberto Rossellini also ex-
plores in depth the aesthetic dimensions of his working method.

Page 100

5
La macchina

ammazzacattivi
Doubts about the Movie Camera as

a Morally Redemptive Force

The most creative phase of Italian neorealism took place within a single
decade, from the early 1940s to the early 1950s. As we have already seen,
a number of works produced during the fascist era are generally considered
precursors to neorealist style, including the fictional documentaries by De
Robertis, Genina's Uassedio dell* Alcazar, Rossellini's early war trilogy, as
well as a few key dramatic films from the early 1940s unconnected with
war themes, such as Visconti's Ossessione {Obsession, 1942), Blasetti's
Quattro passi fra le nuvole (A Stroll in the Clouds, 1942), and De Ska's /
bambini ci guardano {The Children Are Watching Us, 1942). There is uni-
versal agreement, however, that international recognition of bold neorealist
innovation in cinematic art came only with the success of Rossellini's Roma
citta aperta and Paisa. On the other hand, critics have too often failed to
realize that Rossellini and other important directors and scriptwriters iden-
tified with the advent of neorealism, such as Michelangelo Antonioni, Vit-
torio De Sica, Luchino Visconti, and Federico Fellini, began almost
immediately after the early success of Rossellini's two films to move Italian
cinema beyond a doctrinaire adherence to such critically praised elements
of neorealist filmmaking as nonprofessional actors, documentary photog-
raphy, authentic locations, and socially defined protagonists even as they
were winning awards and critical praise at film festivals all over the world.
Almost every truly original and innovative Italian director reacted negatively
against an attempt on the part of some leftist or progressive critics to dictate
what we would probably term today a "politically correct" cinema. Such

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critics wanted to prescribe a formula for Italian directors that would advance
their political agenda, elevating various aspects of neorealist practice to the
status of a rule to be followed. Naturally, the directors felt this was a threat
to their creative independence. Once again, Rossellini was a pioneer, for as
our examination of Paisa has demonstrated, the elements of an entirely
different kind of cinema from that encouraged by the critical orthodoxy
can be detected in the enigmatic monastery episode of Paisa.

Neorealist directors were always conscious of creating the illusion of
reality in their works. As Andre Bazin so perceptively wrote in his seminal
essay on Italian neorealism, "An Aesthetic of Realism: Neorealism (Cine-
matic Realism and the Italian School of the Liberation)," originally pub-
lished in 1948, "realism in art can only be achieved in one way - through
artifice."1 In no sense did these consummate artists merely photograph the
"reality" that existed around them. As Roy Armes has noted, this con-
sciousness of their medium as an artistic artifact also implied the retention
of the entire apparatus of commercial filmmaking, and since the construction
of an artistic product presupposed artistic choices, the paradoxical result
of neorealism was to strengthen the role of the director as auteur.z Thus,
it was no accident that the critics of the French journal Cahiers du Cinema,
many of whom were themselves to become directors and to adopt the famous
politique des auteurs, as they called it, embraced Rossellini's neorealism
precisely because his example championed the director's artistic control of
his product, as opposed to control by producer or studio.3

A number of the formulae for neorealist style favored by many critics
also had aesthetic implications that explain, in large measure, why the most
original of the Italian directors would almost immediately attempt to tran-
scend them. We have already seen how Rossellini mixed nonprofessional
actors with professionals in his major neorealist films. Rejecting professional
actors meant rejecting the portrayal of complex psychological problems in
the cinema and concentrating on social or economic issues, and when this
subject matter no longer satisfied the neorealists, the professional actor
quickly replaced the nonprofessional. The neorealist preference for authentic
locations rather than shooting in studios has been overemphasized, but it
is, as Armes notes, even more crucial to the neorealist style than nonprofes-
sional actors, for on-location shooting practically demands a particular kind
of photography that privileges the newsreel quality of the image and eschews
what Armes calls "chiaroscuro effects or expressionistic devices."4 Films
shot in this manner would ultimately have less to say about intricate psy-
chological states of mind than about conditions in society.

84

Page 199

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