Cinema and Media Studies Roberto Rossellini
by
Sidney Gottlieb
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0003

Introduction

Perhaps a good way to capture Roberto Rossellini’s (b. 1906–d. 1977) protean creativity and deep and ongoing influence is to describe him as one of the truly great makers and unmakers of modern cinema. His career can be divided into four stages, and in all but the first his impact was considerable in helping establish markedly new models of filmmaking, not only in terms of what films should look like and focus on but how they could be made and what purposes they should serve. The first stage was his work as a writer, production assistant, and then director during the last years of the Fascist period in Italy, making films like The Man of the Cross (1943) that were conventional in many respects and had elements of nationalism and propaganda but were also seedbeds for the much different kind of films that he turned to when the Fascists fell from power and the war came to an end. Rome Open City (1945) and Paisan (1946) are highlights of his second stage and landmarks in the rebirth of Italian and subsequently worldwide cinema under the banner of “neorealism,” intended as an antidote to Hollywood production methods and style and a commercial cinema of distraction by making film a vehicle for serious social analysis and progressive political action. But for all that Rossellini is associated with neorealism, an approach to filmmaking in fact with often-unrecognized diversity and even contradictory elements, he very quickly moved to films in the third stage of his career that to some were a betrayal and to others yet another marvelous reinvention of cinema. The films he made featuring Ingrid Bergman in the late 1940s and early 1950s, especially Stromboli (1949) and Voyage in Italy (1953), focused on crises of faith, problems of intimacy and personal relationships, and the devastating effects on individuals of the institutions and conventions surrounding us that entrap rather than protect and nurture. But though these works were enormously influential on the following generations of filmmakers—especially the French New Wave auteurs, but also directors in Italy forging a post-neorealist cinema engaging with problems beyond poverty and war—they were commercially unsuccessful, and in the last stage of his career Rossellini had to find new institutional support for his projects. He found this in television, and during the remaining years of his life he created an impressive and extensive body of films on pivotal figures (e.g., The Rise to Power of Louis XIV [1966]) and eras (e.g., The Age of the Medici [1972]) that developed new ways to express his abiding interest in the representation and critical examination of human history. These films properly capped a life’s work characterized by artistic ingenuity, resourcefulness, and innovation, and devoted to turning modern visual media into instruments of much-needed historical and moral interrogation and education, spiritual renewal, and humanistic progress.

Biographical/Critical Studies

There are numerous studies, both short and long, that give detailed overviews of Rossellini’s life and work, often paying specific attention to the links between life and work in an artist whose films were both personal and historical. Braudy 1978 provides a handy brief introduction and is a useful starting place, although it does not cover Rossellini’s television films. Bondanella 1993 examines seven key films to illustrate continuities and contrasts in the various stages of Rossellini’s career. Guarner 1970 devotes brief chapters to each of Rossellini’s works up to Socrates. Brunette 1987 includes detailed film-by-film analyses, but breaks Rossellini’s career into five periods, indicating how the individual films fall into meaningful clusters. The most fully developed study in English of Rossellini to date is Gallagher 1998, an absolutely essential wellspring of biographical, production, and historical information and insightful critical commentary. Detailed comprehensive studies in Italian by major Rossellini scholars include Verdone 1963 and, much more up to date, Rondolino 1989.

  • Bondanella, Peter. The Films of Roberto Rossellini. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511620225Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Relatively brief but authoritative and accessible overview of Rossellini’s life and career. Focuses on seven films, highlighting the constant evolution in his conception of how cinema could best convey the “truth.” The first chapter, “Rossellini and Realism: The Trajectory of a Career” (pp. 1–31) is a particularly good introduction to the serious study of Rossellini.

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  • Braudy, Leo. “Rossellini: From Open City to Generale Della Rovere.” In Great Film Directors: A Critical Anthology. Edited by Leo Braudy and Morris Dickstein, 655–673. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

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    Compact and extremely useful overview of Rossellini’s approach to filmmaking, a blend of respecting the reality in front of the camera and the perspective of the director behind it, followed by detailed analysis of his major films up to his turn to television, often highlighting their common elements.

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  • Brunette, Peter. Roberto Rossellini. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

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    Brunette’s approach is by no means merely formalist, but he focuses on Rossellini’s themes, techniques, and concerns as they are revealed in close readings of the films, taken up chronologically and separately. Brunette’s insightful analyses are complemented by detailed comments by other critics and many observations from Rossellini’s writings and interviews.

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  • Gallagher, Tag. The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini: His Life and Films. New York: Da Capo, 1998.

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    Exhaustive and indispensable study of Rossellini’s intermingled life and work. Gallagher tells these fascinating stories expertly, incorporates an enormous amount of primary and critical material in his narrative, which makes his volume a valuable sourcebook, and provides detailed overviews of critical commentary on and thorough critical analyses of all Rossellini’s films.

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  • Guarner, José Luis. Roberto Rossellini. Translated by Elisabeth Cameron. New York: Praeger, 1970.

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    Revised and updated edition in Spanish: Valencia: Fundacid Municipal de Cine Mostra de Valencia, 1996. Accessible and reliable introduction to Rossellini. Short chapters on his films from La Nave Bianca to Socrates, with brief summaries followed by critical commentary. Many illustrations from the films.

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  • Rondolino, Gianni, Roberto Rossellini. Turin, Italy: Unione Tipografico-Editrice-Torinese, 1989.

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    Comprehensive and authoritative biographical and critical study. In Italian.

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  • Verdone, Mario. Roberto Rossellini. Paris: Editions Seghers, 1963.

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    Film-by-film critical commentary, followed by selections from several screenplays and an anthology of comments by other critics. In French.

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Collections of Critical Studies

While Rossellini has attracted a great deal of critical attention, there are not a lot of anthologies of essays on him, compared to other major filmmakers like Hitchcock, Welles, and Bergman. The few that have been assembled, though, are particularly useful. A special issue of the online journal Senses of Cinema generated a cluster of introductory essays on key films by Rossellini. Gottlieb 2004 gathers six essays on Open City, but also contains material on other areas of Rossellini’s life and work. Bandy and Monda 2003 includes brief essays on four films from Rossellini’s middle period (late 1940s through the early 1950s) highlighting his interest in crises of faith and the challenges of spirituality. The most far-ranging collection of essays in English is Forgacs, et al. 2000, which covers Rossellini’s entire career and also includes important supplementary texts by Rossellini and several critics. Two important volumes available only in Italian are Aprà 2006, which gathers assorted essays by one of Rossellini’s most important contemporary critics, and Iaccio 2006, which contains essays by various critics on topics covering Rossellini’s path from neorealism to historical films aimed to educate his audience via television.

  • Aprà, Adriano. In viaggio con Rossellini. Allessandria, Italy: Falsopiano, 2006.

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    A collection of essays originally published in scattered and often inaccessible venues by one of Rossellini’s most important critics. Includes chapters on, among other topics, the critical debate over Rossellini, his wartime work, and individual films such as Open City, Stromboli, India, and General Della Rovere. In Italian.

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  • Bandy, Mary Lea, and Antonio Monda, eds. The Hidden God: Film and Faith. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2003.

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    Rossellini figures prominently in this collection of essays written in conjunction with a Museum of Modern Art program on films on religion and spirituality: Adriano Aprà on Stromboli (pp. 65–70), Mary Lea Bandy on The Flowers of Saint Francis (pp. 71–75), Martin Scorsese on Europa ’51 (pp. 75–77), and Virgilio Fantuzzi on Voyage in Italy (pp. 81–84).

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  • Forgacs, David, Sarah Lutton, and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, eds. Roberto Rossellini: Magician of the Real. London: British Film Institute, 2000.

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    Nine essays surveying Rossellini’s entire career, with a particular emphasis on the complexities although overall consistency of his political ideas and much attention to often-neglected or -underappreciated films, such as the Fascist war trilogy that preceded Open City, his films in India, and his television work, the culmination of his lifelong historical cinema. Also contains an assortment of writings, including several by Rossellini, illustrating key debates about his films.

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  • Gottlieb, Sidney, ed. Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City. Cambridge Film Handbooks. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511617133Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although the focus in the six essays in this volume is on Open City, there is an introductory essay on Rossellini’s life and career and much material throughout on the relationship between Open City and his earlier and later work and on his cultural and cinematic influence.

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  • Iaccio, Pasquale, ed. Rossellini: Dal neorealismo alla diffusione della conoscenza. Naples, Italy: Liguori Editore, 2006.

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    Collection of essays by major scholars including Aprà, Brunetta, Iaccio, and Lizzani on such topics as Rossellini’s life, his relationship with Bergman, and Paisan, The Flowers of St. Francis, Stromboli, and his television films. Also includes numerous documents, letters, and interviews. In Italian.

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  • Cinémathèque Annotations on Film: Roberto Rossellini.” Senses of Cinema 51 (9 July 2009).

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    Brief introductory but often critically pointed essays by individual authors on Open City, Paisan, Germany Year Zero, L‘Amore, The Machine That Kills Bad People, and Voyage in Italy.

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Rossellini’s Writings and Interviews

As much as a he was a believer in images as the best vehicle for conveying information and promoting knowledge, Rossellini used words expertly and indefatigably. He was typically overflowing with and eager to express ideas and opinions about film, culture, and history, captured in an invaluable abundance of letters, project notes, theoretical writings, reminiscences, and interviews. He thought of himself as protean, ever-changing, and not reducible to a rigorous program, but often aimed to identify principles, values, stylistic practices, and cinematic goals that he felt were particularly important and that guided him consistently throughout his life. A substantial selection from Rossellini 1987a is available in English (Rossellini 1992), but much important material is not, including a collection of autobiographical interviews (Rossellini 1987b), his theoretical book on the advantages of using cinema as a tool of education and political progress (Rossellini 1974), both in Italian, and the far-ranging collection of texts assembled by Alain Bergala (Rossellini 1984), in French. But there are numerous individual interviews and writings in English scattered in various journals and magazines, like the far-ranging interview with the author of Schultz 1971 surveying his entire career and current ambitions, a shorter interview (Rossellini 1973) that outlines the principles behind the historical work that engaged him for the last part of his life, and a manifesto (Rossellini 1973–1974) that explains his rejection of commercial filmmaking and charts a path for a reinvigorated and truly useful modern cinema.

  • Rossellini, Roberto. “Man’s Well-Being, Behavior and the Spread of Knowledge.” Film Culture 56–57 (1973): 17–23.

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    Brief survey of human history, a tale of mankind “hurling itself toward destruction at dizzying speed.” Indicts contemporary media as the major polluters of consciousness and behavior, and challenges media makers to aid in the all-important task of informing and orienting society at large while still respecting individual uniqueness.

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  • Rossellini, Roberto. “Manifesto.” Screen 14.4 (1973–1974): 110–111.

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    Important document, signed by a group of filmmakers and writers, explaining Rossellini’s rejection of commercial cinema and commitment to films that escape the blinders of ideology and inform people about historical and contemporary matters.

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  • Rossellini, Roberto. Utopia, Autopsia, 1010. Rome: Armando, 1974.

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    Updates the cultural-educational theories of the influential 17th-century writer Comenius by specifying cinema, a particularly effective mode of “autopsy” (seeing with one’s own eyes), as the best means to expand our knowledge and consciousness, necessary to facilitate human progress. In Italian.

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  • Rossellini, Roberto. Le cinéma révélé. Edited by Alain Bergala. Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma/Editions de l’Etoile, 1984.

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    Valuable opening essay by Bergala on “Roberto Rossellini et l’invention du cinema moderne,” introducing a substantial collection of Rossellini’s writings and interviews on film and television. Also includes an unproduced scenario, La Décision d’Isa (1956). In French.

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  • Rossellini, Roberto. Il mio metodo: Scritti e interviste. Edited by Adriano Aprà. Venice: Marsilio, 1987a.

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    Extensive collection of Rossellini’s writings and interviews discussing his films and conception of cinema. In Italian. English translations of a selection of these pieces are gathered in My Method (Rossellini 1992).

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  • Rossellini, Roberto. Quasi un’autobiografia. Edited by Stefano Roncoroni. Milan: Mondadori, 1987b.

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    Interviews with Rossellini by Roncoroni focusing on a variety of aspects of his life and observations on society, including comments on his family relationships, living in a world of spectacle and ignorance, and his work in India. In Italian.

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  • Rossellini, Roberto. My Method: Writings and Interviews. Edited by Adriano Aprà. Translated by Annapaola Cancogni. New York: Marsillo, 1992.

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    English versions of twenty-one of the sixty-two texts gathered from a variety of sources in Rossellini’s Il mio metodo (1987), plus “Ten Years of Cinema” in Overbey 1979 (cited under Rossellini and Neorealism). Essential interviews and writings by Rossellini defining his approach to filmmaking from “Before Open City” to his late television work.

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  • Schultz, Victoria. “Interview with Roberto Rossellini, February 22–25, 1971 in Houston, Texas.” Film Culture 52 (1971): 1–42.

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    Focuses on Rossellini’s ideas about using films to provide an orientation for people, based on knowledge. Includes many comments on his own films, experiences in India, working method, and conception of films as made by a group but presided over by “a personality rising above the others and imposing itself.”

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Bibliographies, Filmographies, and Reference Guides

There are detailed bibliographies and filmographies in most of the book-length critical studies of Rossellini. Of these, the “Filmography,” “Notes,” and “Select Bibliography,” in Gallagher 1998 and the “Select Bibliography” in Forgacs, et al. 2000 (cited under Collections of Critical Studies), which includes brief but very useful annotations, are particularly good guides to navigating the voluminous available material. The entries in Rossi 1988, which cover up to 1978, are fully annotated, a tremendous boon to researchers who don’t read Italian or French, languages in which much important Rossellini material is written, or have access to the often out-of-the-way publications containing key interviews and critical work. Aprà 1987 international bibliography is the most complete to date. See also Lutton and Aprà 2000.

  • Aprà, Adriano, ed. Rosselliniana: Bibliografia internazionale, dossier “Paisà.” Rome: Di Giacomo Editore, 1987.

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    Comprehensive bibliography, broken into useful categories, e.g., scripts/scenarios, writings by/interviews with Rossellini, critical studies, and then sections on each of his works. The Paisan dossier contains script material, essays by people involved with the film, and extracts from reviews. In Italian, but citations to critical works in English are in English.

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  • Gallagher, Tag. The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini: His Life and Films. New York: Da Capo, 1998.

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    The “Filmography” (pp. 689–707) includes not only full production details and casting and technical credits but also information about differences in various release versions, a key concern with many films by Rossellini. Also covers theater pieces staged by Rossellini. The notes direct the reader to key sources and often contain long quotations from them. Also see “Notes” (pp. 708–771) and “Select Bibliography” (pp. 772–775).

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  • Lutton, Sarah, and Adriano Aprà. “Select Bibliography.” In Roberto Rossellini: Magician of the Real. Edited by David Forgacs, Sarah Lutton, and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, 196–203. London: British Film Institute, 2000.

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    Lightly but usefully annotates numerous entries. Supplements Rossi, which covers only up to 1978, and may be more user-friendly starting place, especially for beginning researchers who don’t read Italian, than the fuller bibliography in Aprà 1987.

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  • Rossi, Patrizio. Roberto Rossellini: A Guide to References and Resources. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988.

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    Detailed overview of Rossellini’s life and work, synopses and credits of his films, and annotated bibliography of critical work on Rossellini to 1978. Especially handy for coverage of numerous inaccessible films and critical works not in English.

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Visual Material

Secondary material in video form is becoming increasingly valuable in the serious study of film. This includes interviews, documentaries, commentaries, and visual essays. There is a substantial amount of such material available that is extremely useful for studying Rossellini. A three-part documentary by Tartagni 1989 gives an extremely good introduction to neorealism up to the mid-1950s, and Rossellini figures prominently in each part. Scorsese 2004 gives a comprehensive overview of Italian cinema, with much attention to Rossellini, and frequent indications of his own debts to particular films. Aprà 1992 focuses specifically on Rossellini, and the filmmaker speaks for himself in a very engaging way about his films and theories of filmmaking. Critical commentaries, documentaries, visual essays, and other supplementary material are frequently included in DVD editions of films, and Rossellini has been particularly well served in this regard in recent video re-releases of Open City, Paisan, Germany Year Zero, and The Taking of Power by Louis XIV. Lizzani’s film Celluloide, like Pirro 1983 (cited under Open City [1945]), the novel that it relies on heavily, is a fictional but historically based dramatization of the personal dramas behind and production circumstances of Open City.

  • Aprà, Adriano, dir. Rossellini Seen by Rossellini. VHS. Rome: Istituto Luce Italnoleggio Cinematografico, 1992.

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    Panoramic and revealing examination of Rossellini, with clips from films throughout his career and extensive comments by Rossellini on individual works and his theories of film and television. Distributed by Museum of Modern Art Collectors Series/Kultur Video. Italian with English subtitles; 60 mins.

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  • Lizzani, Carlo, dir. Celluloide. Screenplay by Ugo Pirro, Furio Scarpelli, and Carlo Lizzani. VHS. Memphis, TN: Dean Film, 1995.

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    Based on the novel Pirro 1983 (cited under Open City [1945]). Discussed in detail in Millicent Marcus, “Celluloide and the Palimpsest of Cinematic Memory,” in Gottlieb 2004 (cited under Collections of Critical Studies) pp. 67–84, emphasizing the history of the making of Open City, the film’s representation of contemporary (wartime) history, and its role in postwar cinematic and cultural history.

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  • Rossellini, Roberto, dir. The Taking of Power by Louis XIV, 1966. DVD. Criterion Collection 456. Irvington, NY: Criterion, 2008.

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    Supplements include a visual essay by Tag Gallagher, “Taking Power,” on this film and also on Rossellini’s historical work in general, and interviews with several people who assisted on the film, including Rossellini’s son, Renzo, artistic advisor Jean-Dominique de la Rochefoucauld, and script supervisor Michelle Podroznim.

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  • Rossellini, Roberto, dir. Germany Year Zero, 1948. In Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy. Criterion Collection DVD boxed set. Irvington, NY: Criterion, 2010a.

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    Along with a booklet of brief critical essays, the DVD contains several visual essays by Carlo Lizzani: a full-length documentary on Rossellini’s life and career and two discussions of Rossellini’s wartime work and Germany Year Zero in particular.

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  • Rossellini, Roberto, dir. Paisan, 1946. In Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy. Criterion Collection DVD boxed set. Irvington, NY: Criterion, 2010b.

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    Includes an analysis of the film by Adriano Aprà, an interview with Rossellini, and a detailed visual essay by Tag Gallagher, Into the Future, on the entire trilogy.

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  • Rossellini, Roberto, dir. Rome Open City, 1946. In Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy. Criterion Collection DVD boxed set. Irvington, NY: Criterion, 2010c.

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    Supplementary material includes a full commentary by Peter Bondanella, an interview with Adriano Aprà on the title of the film, a visual essay by Mark Shiel on images of the city in the trilogy, and an important documentary by Marie Genin and Serge July, Once Upon a Time . . . Rome Open City.

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  • Scorsese, Martin, dir. My Voyage to Italy, 1999. DVD. Burbank, CA: Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2004.

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    Includes a long section on Rossellini, with many clips from his films. Equal attention to the war trilogy and later films highlighting religious eccentricity (The Flowers of St. Francis), interpersonal and personal despair (Voyage to Italy, “one of my favorites”), and crises of faith for would-be saints (Europa ’51), all central themes in Scorsese’s own films. 246 mins.

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  • Tartagni, Piero, dir. Neorealism. Written and narrated by Carlo Lizzani. VHS. Rome: Istituto Luce Italnoleggio Cinematografico, 1989.

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    Thorough examination of the evolution of neorealism and its role in the history of Italian and world cinema, with an emphasis on its diversity from the very beginning. Much attention to Rossellini, but in the context of the many directors who illustrate the heterogeneity of neorealism. Films in the series include Until 1945 (52 mins), Until 1950 (53 mins), and Until 1954 (58 mins). Distributed by Mu­seum of Modern Art Collectors Series/Kultur Video; Italian with English subtitles.

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Rossellini and Neorealism

Rossellini is inseparable from neorealism, a movement particularly important from the early 1940s to the mid-1950s far out of proportion to the actual number of neorealist films that were made, and one that has had a deep and lasting impact on filmmaking not only in Italy but throughout the world into the early 21st century. Many important critical studies examine Rossellini in the context of the origin, development, transformation, and, some might say, repudiation of neorealism—and vice versa: Rossellini looms large in any attempt to grasp the history of neorealism, and of Italian and world cinema more generally. Liehm 1984 covers neorealism extensively as the prelude to developments in Italian cinema for the next decades. Looking backward, Ben-Ghiat 1991 examines the roots of neorealism in Fascist-era film theory and practice, and looking forward, Marcus 1986 explores the centrality of neorealism to modern Italian cinema. Gottlieb 2004 examines the ways that Open City sets a pattern for but also diverges from some of the elements that traditionally define neorealism. Wagstaff 2007 looks at neorealism through the lens of three key films, two of which are by Rossellini. Shiel 2006 uses six films, including Open City and Voyage to Italy, to help him define neorealism and its variations. Overbey 1979 allows the filmmakers and theorists directly involved in neorealism to speak for themselves in trying to articulate the essence of the movement and what unites and divides those associated with it. Bazin 2011 is by one of the most influential theorists, analysts, and defenders of neorealism, and Rossellini figures prominently in these essays on the subject. Rossellini’s own comments on neorealism appear throughout the texts listed in the present bibliography under the heading Rossellini’s Writings and Interviews. See especially “A Discussion of Neorealism” (pp. 33–42) and “I Am Not the Father of Neorealism” (pp. 44–46) in Rossellini 1992 (cited under Rossellini’s Writings and Interviews).

  • Bazin, André. Bazin and Italian Neorealism. Edited by Bert Cardullo. New York: Continuum, 2011.

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    English translations of Bazin’s writings on neorealism, including important overview essays, such as “Cinematic Realism and the Italian School of the Liberation” (pp. 29–50) and “An Aesthetic of Reality: Neorealism,” and essays specifically on Rossellini, including “Germany, Year Zero” (pp. 57–60), “In Defense of Rossellini” (pp. 163–171), and “De Sica and Rossellini” (pp. 172–175).

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  • Ben-Ghiat, Ruth. “Neorealism in Italy, 1930–50: From Fascism to Resistance.” Romance Languages Annual 3 (1991): 155–159.

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    Well-documented examination of the early history of the term “neorealism,” beginning in the 1920s during the Fascist era, before it became associated with the antifascist Resistance. Directly applicable to assessing the complex relationship of Rossellini to the artistic culture he grew up and initially worked in.

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  • Gottlieb, Sidney. “Rossellini, Open City, and Neorealism.” In Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb, 31–42. Cambridge Film Handbooks. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511617133.002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the extent to which Open City exemplifies the key elements of conventional definitions of neorealism but in a dynamic, hybrid, negotiated way, often contesting certain prescribed elements and avoiding reductive cinematic formulae.

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  • Liehm, Mira. Passion and Defiance: Film in Italy from 1942 to the Present. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.

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    Detailed history of modern Italian cinema foregrounding the development, flourishing, transformation, and in some cases rejection of neorealism, a nearly inescapable reference point for filmmakers and film theorists from the early 1940s to at least the early 1980s.

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  • Marcus, Millicent. Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.

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    Contains an excellent brief introduction defining neorealism and discussing its early development, followed by seventeen chapters focusing on individual films. Focuses primarily on the legacy and transformations of neorealism to the mid-1970s, but begins with a detailed analysis of Open City and the “founding” of “neorealism proper.”

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  • Overbey, David, ed. Springtime in Italy: A Reader on Neo-Realism. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1979.

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    Essential collection of writings by filmmakers and critics defining the elusive and ever-shifting theory and practice of neorealism.

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  • Shiel, Mark. Italian Neorealism: Rebuilding the Cinematic City. London: Wallflower, 2006.

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    Brief introduction to the early development, transformation, and legacy of neorealism, focusing particularly on six key films, including Open City and Voyage to Italy. Much attention to the depiction of urban spaces, especially as related to problems of modernization, which figure prominently in neorealist films.

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  • Wagstaff, Christopher. Italian Neorealist Cinema: An Aesthetic Approach. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

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    Intended as a supplement, an alternative to though not necessarily a rebuttal of, conventional studies which emphasize neorealism as an attempt to faithfully reproduce physical reality. Extremely detailed formalist analysis of three canonical neorealist films, Open City, Paisan, and Bicycle Thieves, focusing on artistic qualities such as narrative and dramatic structure, lighting, costume, and symbolic visual details.

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Before Open City

While Open City was his breakthrough film, it was not his first, and viewers who identify (and canonize) him as one of the leaders of an antifascist humanist cinema are sometimes startled to learn that he assisted on projects serving the Fascist state and directed three films, often called his Fascist trilogy (The White Ship, A Pilot Returns, and The Man with a Cross), that often glorify ideals held by the Fascists. These works are gaining much attention as current scholars and critics try to gain a comprehensive understanding of Rossellini’s entire career and an accurate sense of the relationship between his early and later work. Full-length studies of Fascist-era cinema in Italy by Landy 1986 and Hay 1987 describe the culture and institutional structure of filmmaking during Rossellini’s formative years. Rondolino 1983 focuses more narrowly on the Italian propaganda films of the war years, which include Rossellini’s first three films. Ben-Ghiat 2000 and Bondanella 2004 examine these three films to explore the complexities of Rossellini’s relationship to evolving theories and practices of cinema during the Fascist years. Bondanella 1993 and Celli 1998 focus more narrowly on Man with a Cross and the film immediately following it, Open City, to highlight continuities (Celli’s focus) and differences in his Fascist-era and postwar films and approach to filmmaking.

  • Ben-Ghiat, Ruth. “The Fascist War Trilogy.” In Roberto Rossellini: Magician of the Real. Edited by David Forgacs, Sarah Lutton, and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, 20–35. London: British Film Institute, 2000.

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    Balanced appraisal of Rossellini as complex, resourceful, opportunistic, and flexible as historical circumstances changed from the ascent to the fall of Italian Fascism in his early years as a filmmaker. Examines his immersion in Fascist-era notions of realism and cinematic propaganda, aspects of which he transformed and applied to different ends in his post-1943 films.

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  • Bondanella, Peter. “L‘uomo dalla croce: Rossellini and Fascist Cinema.” In The Films of Roberto Rossellini. By Peter Bondanella, 32–44. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511620225.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Without downplaying Rossellini’s “personal and intellectual links” to the Fascist regime and the nationalist and propagandistic uses of his early films, Bondanella distances Rossellini from Fascist ideology. Outlines some aspects of The Man with a Cross that will continue and others that will be modified or repudiated in his following films.

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  • Bondanella, Peter. “The Making of Roma Città Aperta: The Legacy of Fascism and the Birth of Neorealism.” In Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb, 43–66. Cambridge Film Handbooks. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511617133Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Despite the title, most of Bondanella’s essay focuses on Rossellini’s “Fascist trilogy,” and how Open City is in many ways consistent with and deeply rooted in these films in particular and the development of realistic cinema in general during the Fascist period.

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  • Celli, Carlo. “Italian Neorealism’s Wartime Legacy: Roberto Rossellini’s Roma Citta Apertà/Rome Open City (1945) and L‘uomo dalla Croce/Man of the Cross (1943).” Romance Languages Annual 10.1 (1998): 225–228.

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    Considers Open City as virtually a remake of Man of the Cross, sharing a similar set of characters, a dramatic ending focusing on the martyrdom of a heroic priest, and Catholic-themed critique of not so much either Fascism or Communism but more broadly a repressive ideology of Social Darwinism.

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  • Hay, James. Popular Film Culture in Fascist Italy: The Passing of the Rex. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

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    Important reassessment of Italian filmmaking in the 1930s as neither the uninteresting wasteland of escapism it is often assumed to be or as largely a time of overtly Fascist propaganda. Highlights the emergence of a diverse film culture deeply influential on succeeding generations, including that of Rossellini and the neorealists.

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  • Landy, Marcia. Fascism in Film: The Italian Commercial Cinema, 1931–1943. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.

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    Detailed examination of the resurgence of the Italian film industry in the 1930s and the complex ways that it contributed to the shaping of social and political consciousness. Focuses on representations of young people and gender, and key genres, particularly historical film, comedy, and melodrama.

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  • Rondolino, Gianni. “Italian Propaganda Films: 1940–1943.” In Film and Radio Propaganda in World War II. Edited by Kenneth R. M. Short, 230–244. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1983.

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    Survey of “documentary-style war films” made in Italy during the war years. These include several films Rossellini assisted on as well as the first three feature films he directed. Usefully emphasizes that a film could serve as propaganda without being rigidly doctrinaire.

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The War Trilogy

Open City, Paisan, and Germany Year Zero comprise a thematically related trilogy of films, focusing on “stories of the day” (one of the working titles for Open City) of the end of the war and immediate postwar period. They are well worth studying together not only to trace their continuities but to see Rossellini’s experimentation, variety, and development even within a few short years: from Open City, which for all its unconventionality retains many elements of classical cinematic melodrama and action/adventure, to Paisan, which has a more open-ended, interrogative, and ironic structure and tonality, to Germany Year Zero, which balances social-documentary elements with a prolonged examination of a lost soul that prefigures his later films that focus on individuals facing problems of faith and ruptured intimacies. Aprà 1995 assembles much primary and secondary critical material useful for an in-depth study of the war trilogy. Even bearing in mind that cinema is primarily a visual medium, Roncoroni’s transcription of the dialogue (Rossellini 1973) is very helpful in analyzing three films that speak as well as show. Armes 1971 focuses on ways that these three films together exemplify much of what is essential in the at that time newly emerging neorealist movement. Material specifically on Open City and Paisan is cited under the headings for those films in the section Individual Films.

  • Aprà, Adriano, ed. II dopoguerra di Rossellini. Rome: Cinecittà International, 1995.

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    Valuable collection of assorted documents on Rome Open City, Paisan, and Germany Year Zero, including script material on Paisan and Germany Year Zero, early reviews, and many illustrations. In Italian.

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  • Armes, Roy. Patterns of Realism: A Study of Italian Neo-Realism. Cranbury, NJ: A. S. Barnes, 1971.

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    In the context of a broader study of neorealism, Armes focuses extensively on Rossellini’s war trilogy in his section on “The Years of Achievement” (pp. 67–93). He pays particular attention to the formal elements of these films as well as the moral problems faced by the major characters.

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  • Rossellini, Roberto. The War Trilogy: Open City, Paisan, Germany—Year Zero. Edited by Stetofano Roncoroni. Translated by Judith Green. New York: Grossman, 1973.

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    Transcriptions of the dialogue of each of the War Trilogy films, with brief descriptions of the actions and camera movements and timing marks for the shots. Invaluable for a close study of these films, especially because much of the dialogue is not captured by the English subtitles.

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Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman

Rossellini’s personal and professional relationship with Ingrid Bergman constitutes a discrete and extremely important period in his life and work, marked by great creative energy and achievement but also emotional turmoil and popular controversy, the latter of which generated not only much negative publicity but also critical disdain. The films he made with her are in many respects strikingly different from his earlier films and also contain many autobiographical elements relevant to a full understanding of them. Bergman speaks for herself about her life and work with Rossellini in her interview with Wood 1974a and her autobiography, Bergman 1980. Wood 1974b asserts Rossellini’s importance as a filmmaker by focusing largely on his use of Bergman in the films of this period. Damico 1975 relates the scandal caused by the Rossellini-Bergman relationship primarily to how her new life seemed to be a betrayal of her carefully cultivated, although not entirely accurate, publicity image and screen persona. Gundle 2000 similarly focuses on the American screen-going public’s sense of Bergman’s betrayal, but compares this to the strikingly different media coverage of the controversy in Italy. Jacobowitz 1996 examines how Rossellini used Bergman to redefine neorealism and sharpen his critical analysis of conventional marriage and gender roles. The complexity of the Rossellini-Bergman films is further accentuated by the fact that these films exist in multiple versions, as described and analyzed in great detail by Dagrada 2008 (in Italian). For further detailed analyses of Rossellini’s use of Bergman in specific films, see Gelley 2008 (cited under Stromboli [1949]) and Gelley 2004 (cited under A Rossellini Miscellany).

  • Bergman, Ingrid, with Alan Burgess. My Story. New York: Delacorte, 1980.

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    Includes much information on Bergman’s take on her personal and professional relationship with Rossellini.

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  • Dagrada, Elena. Le varianti trasparenti: I film con Ingrid Bergman di Roberto Rossellini. 2d ed. Milan: LED—Edizioni Universitarie di Lettere Economia Diritto, 2008.

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    Extremely detailed studies of Stromboli, Europa ’51, Voyage in Italy, Joan of Arc, and Fear, examining the differences between the multiple release versions of each film. Includes many primary source documents describing various aspects of the production of the films. In Italian.

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  • Damico, James. “Ingrid from Lorraine to Stromboli: Analyzing the Public’s Perception of a Film Star.” Journal of Popular Film 4.1 (1975): 3–19.

    DOI: 10.1080/00472719.1975.10661751Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Notes that Bergman’s public persona as “natural,” pure, and spiritual, although out of sync with many of her actual film roles, was accepted as a “totemic” truth by mass audiences, and prompted wrath and a sense of betrayal when news media documented her sexuality and unconventional and unapologetic relationship with Rossellini. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Gundle, Stephen. “Saint Ingrid at the Stake: Stardom and Scandal in the Bergman-Rossellini Collaboration.” In Roberto Rossellini: Magician of the Real. Edited by David Forgacs, Sarah Lutton, and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, 64–79. London: British Film Institute, 2000.

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    Detailed examination of the events and contributing factors in the media-fueled scandal surrounding the Bergman-Rossellini relationship. Covers its development not only in America but in Italy as well, where it took a substantially different form.

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  • Jacobowitz, Florence. “Rewriting Realism: (Ingrid) Bergman and (Roberto) Rossellini in Europe 1949–1955.” CineAction 41 (1996): 22–32.

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    Analyzes key components of Rossellini’s transformation of neorealism, focusing primarily on Stromboli and Europa ’51. Emphasizes the melodrama and personal aspects of his relationship with Bergman and her star persona to reinforce these films’ interrogation and critique of conventional gender roles and bourgeois values and institutions, including marriage and the family.

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  • Wood, Robin. “Ingrid Bergman on Rossellini: Interviewed by Robin Wood.” Film Comment 10.4 (1974a): 12–15.

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    Extensive comments by Bergman on Rossellini’s improvisational dialogue, religious sensibility, desire to teach his audiences, and commanding and demanding presence as a director.

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  • Wood, Robin. “Rossellini.” Film Comment 10.4 (1974b): 6–11.

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    Persuasive attempt to explain and redress popular disdain for Rossellini’s films by examining key aspects of his style and the challenges of his detached, analytical, and presentational approach. Focuses on his films with Ingrid Bergman, and specifically Voyage in Italy, as exemplifying his Lawrentian sensitivity to the central needs of existence.

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Television/Historical Films

During the last period of his life Rossellini concentrated primarily on making films for television, but while this may have been prompted primarily because of limited opportunities to make films any other way—commercial cinema rejected Rossellini as much as he rejected it at this point—the extensive body of work he produced at this time exemplified his lifelong commitment to making historical films, charted in great detail in Aprà 2000, and his newfound enthusiasm for television as an essential mode of art and education, key elements in not only representing and examining but also forging human progress. Hughes 1974 and Forgacs 2011 give very useful overviews of the particular historical issues represented in these films. Gallagher 1975 highlights the theoretical underpinnings of Rossellini’s ambition, aimed at renovating art and civilization at large. Many of Rossellini’s important statements about television are gathered in Trasatti 1978 and Rossellini 2001, and both of these books also contain detailed critical commentaries by their editors on Rossellini and television (unfortunately neither is available in English translation).

  • Aprà, Adriano. “Rossellini’s Historical Encyclopedia.” In Roberto Rossellini: Magician of the Real. Edited by David Forgacs, Sarah Lutton, and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, 126–148. London: British Film Institute, 2000.

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    Detailed outline of the historical project that occupied Rossellini for the last fifteen years of his life, focusing on the thematic, structural, and stylistic elements of what he hoped would be a new cinema of education that would help not only understand but change the world.

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  • Forgacs, David. “Rossellini’s Pictorial Histories.” Film Quarterly 64.3 (2011): 25–36.

    DOI: 10.1525/FQ.2011.64.3.25Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Balanced overview of striking differences but also deep similarities between Rossellini’s early neorealist classics and his much less known and often misunderstood television work. Sees both the early and late work as, in overlapping but distinctive ways, historically engaged, educational, both visually and verbally, and deeply critical of conventional cinema. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Gallagher, Tag. “Roberto Rossellini and Historical Neorealism.” Artforum 13.10 (1975): 40–49.

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    Detailed analysis of the theoretical and stylistic principles defining the “historical neorealism” of Rossellini’s final films, characterized by a repudiation of a cinema of spectacle and complaint and an attempt to educate audiences to see for themselves and use the lessons of the past to find ways to contribute to human progress.

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  • Hughes, John. “Recent Rossellini.” Film Comment 10.4 (1974): 16–21.

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    Close readings of Rossellini’s late historical films, emphasizing his analysis of key dialectical oppositions in the history of the West, such as freedom/necessity, mind/nature, and rational realism/pathological delusion, exemplified by the main characters in these films. Repeatedly links Rossellini and Godard as founders of a Brechtian cinema.

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  • Rossellini, Roberto. La télévision comme utopie. Edited by Adriano Aprà. Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma, 2001.

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    Collection of Rossellini’s interviews and writings on his television work, including theoretical observations on the contemporary need for such works and a section gathering his comments on individual films. Long introduction by Aprà discussing Rossellini’s use of actors, mise-en-scène, and his conception of a new didactic cinema. In French.

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  • Trasatti, Sergio. Rossellini e la televisione. Rome: La Rassegna, 1978.

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    Critical overview of Rossellini’s television work, followed by interviews with Rossellini on these works and a selection of his essays on the educational and social functions of television in the contemporary media environment. Also includes the scenario for Atti degli Apostoli. In Italian.

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Critical Studies

The following subsections outline several particular aspects of Rossellini’s works that have attracted much attention by critics. Politics is naturally a recurrent concern, given not only the outspokenly social and political content and antifascist aims of neorealist films and Rossellini’s dedication, especially late in his career, to a cinema of political education and progressive change, but also because of the controversy throughout the middle part of his career about whether or not he had abandoned interest in politics when he shifted to what seemed to be more psychologically focused films. Religion, broadly defined, is rarely out of sight in his films, and critics continue to explore his use of religious iconography, critical portrayal of institutional religion but deep interest in individual religious figures, and recurrent dramatizations and analyses of crises of faith. Gender issues are foregrounded especially in the films he made with Ingrid Bergman, but numerous critics are also interested in his portraits of both men and women in times of war, images of non-normative sexuality, and frequent use of melodrama, a genre associated with the examination of gender. Perhaps because his filmmaking career was so long and in some respects ever-changing and controversial, and his reputation so volatile, critics frequently took the time to reassess Rossellini, attempting to chart continuities, figures in the carpet, or new beginnings and radical shifts. Such reassessments were often overt or covert attempts to defend Rossellini from disregard or disrespect, and were aimed to remind other critics and audiences at large that despite numerous flaws and the uneven quality of his work Rossellini was always a cinematic force to be reckoned with. Finally, as the heading suggests, the A Rossellini Miscellany gathers critical studies on a variety of topics and from a range of critical perspectives.

Politics

The subject of politics is fundamental to Rossellini, but has prompted much critical disagreement, not only about the particular attitudes expressed in individual works but also about whether there is any overall consistency and coherence to his views throughout his career. Serri 2007 sees Rossellini’s political ideas as fluid, and characterizes him as if not an opportunist then certainly as someone capable of adjusting his political views to changing times. Walsh 1977 uses two key films, one early and one late, to illustrate that any conception of Rossellini as radical in style and politics needs to be carefully qualified, an argument pursued in even greater detail in Gallagher 1988. Chambless 2003 highlights Rossellini’s unconventional (compared to Hollywood films) and progressive antifascist portrayal of the Resistance in his wartime trilogy, but Rocchio 1999 argues the opposite in stressing how little Rossellini actually resists many of the oppressive and ongoing aspects of Fascism. Russell 1967 identifies the key axis of politics in Rossellini’s films as North, representing the promise and perils of modernization, versus South, representing an approach to life that is often brutally primitive and irrational but vitally passionate and spiritual. Nowell-Smith 2000 adds another axis to this, West (America, a not-entirely-friendly ally) versus East (European/Italian, resourceful but not sufficiently independent) as part of his insistence on the importance of politics throughout Rossellini’s works. Rogin 2004 uses Open City as an entry point from which to consider Rossellini’s far-reaching but ultimately failed project to contribute cinematically to the defeat of Fascism and oppression and create a democratic and just society. In addition to the works cited below, many of the critical studies listed in other sections comment on political topics. For example, Peter Bondanella (Bondanella 1993, cited under Biographical/Critical Studies, and in Gottlieb 2004, cited under Collections of Critical Studies) examines continuities as well as contrasts in Rossellini’s Fascist and antifascist trilogies. The articles in the section on Gender are also directly concerned with broader issues of how social and political institutions and practices limit and oppress people on the basis of gender and sexual orientation. And since Rossellini’s television films were undertaken to educate audiences with an eye on preparing for political change, the entries in Television/Historical Films, not surprisingly, routinely address political topics.

  • Chambless, Amy. “Revisiting the Resistance of Roberto Rossellini’s Cinema.” Romance Notes 44.1 (2003): 31–39.

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    Shows how Open City and Paisan diverge from conventional historical understanding and Hollywood fantasies in portraying the Resistance by focusing on groups of supporters and sufferers rather than triumphant heroic individuals; mistrust, misunderstanding, and complicity rather than clearly recognizable moral action; and ongoing struggle rather than assured happy consequences, let alone endings.

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  • Gallagher, Tag. “NR = MC2: Rossellini, ‘Neo-Realism,’ and Croce.” Film History 2.1 (1988): 87–97.

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    Attempts to strip away French appropriations and definitions of neorealism and Rossellini in particular to deemphasize radical ideology and phenomenology and reemphasize humanism and an art of inquiry, reliving the past to understand both past and present and prepare for progressive change. These latter qualities reflect the enormous influence on Italian thought of Croce. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey. “North and South, East and West: Rossellini and Politics.” In Roberto Rossellini: Magician of the Real. Edited by David Forgacs, Sarah Lutton, and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, 7–19. London: British Film Institute, 2000.

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    Argues that politics is central to Rossellini, evident in his recurrent theme of communication/non-communication, presented as a sociocultural as well as individual problem. Highlights Rossellini’s concern with reconciling the deep conflicts between North and South (Nordic and Mediterranean) and East and West (American and European).

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  • Rocchio, Vincent F. “Rome Open City: Anxiety, Ideology, and Cultural Containment.” In Cinema of Anxiety: A Psychoanalysis of Italian Neorealism. By Vincent F. Rocchio, 29–51. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999.

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    Relying on close readings of the film’s many disturbing “disruptions,” Rossellini’s own testimony that Open City is largely about “fear,” and Lacanian and Marxist theories of the virtually inescapable reaches of structures of power and the need for maintaining psychic and social order, Rocchio interprets Open City as a dramatization of complicity, containment, and repression rather than true liberation.

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  • Rogin, Michael. “Mourning, Melancholia, and the Popular Front: Roberto Rossellini’s Beautiful Revolution.” In Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb, 131–160. Cambridge Film Handbooks. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511617133Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Allies Rossellini with Marx’s call for a “beautiful revolution” and Gramsci’s strategic emphasis on creating a progressive “national popular culture,” but analyzes the complex forces, personal and historical, that made these ideals difficult to embody in his films and to realize in postwar Italy and America.

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  • Russell, Lee [Peter Wollen]. “Roberto Rossellini.” New Left Review 42 (1967): 69–71.

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    Outlines key polarities in Rossellini’s work revolving around his fundamentally Southern Italian orientation (“superstitious and semi-pagan”) confronting a Northern European mentality (repressed, cynical, overly rational). Brief but insightful comments on his populism, patriotism, realism (and the limitations of an “uncritical realism”), and deep influence on contemporary cinema, especially Godard. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Serri, Mirella. “From the Odeon to the Odeon: The Experience of Roberto Rossellini from Fascism to Antifascism.” Telos 5.139 (2007): 70–78.

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    Examines the early development of Rossellini’s political consciousness following a common “dialectical pattern” of error (extensive work on acclaimed films praising Fascism), disarray (a complex period of confusion and transition), and redemption (completion of significant work repudiating Fascism and identification with antifascism). Sees Rossellini as a political realist, adjusting to changing circumstances. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Walsh, Martin. “Rome, Open City, The Rise to Power of Louis XIV: Re-evaluating Rossellini.” Jump Cut 15 (1977): 13–15.

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    Uses close readings of an early and a late film to illustrate his claim that throughout his career Rossellini’s films contain radical but also many conventional elements of style and ideology. Even as they criticize a cinema of spectacle and illusion, they are indebted to it.

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Religion

Religion appears throughout Rossellini’s films in a variety of forms. Christian iconography, especially of suffering, but also of wandering in a wilderness, days of judgment, and moments of epiphany and exaltation, coexists with what often purports to be documentary realism. The Catholic Church and clergy are frequently represented, and are as interrogated or challenged as they are celebrated. Spiritual values and virtues are counterpoised against dominant material and pragmatic concerns, and crises of faith are at the heart of a large proportion of the films, as Rossellini himself noted (Koval 1951). Simpkins 2008 discusses the omnipresence of religion, broadly defined, in Rossellini’s films. Perry 1999 analyzes repeated images of martyrdom in Open City, based on the identification of each of the major partisan figures as Christ-like, and Fraser 1998 goes even further in suggesting that a triumphant sacramentalism accompanies the painful Christ-like suffering in the film. The essays in Bandy and Monda 2003 examine the centrality of religious and spiritual concerns in some of Rossellini’s major middle-period films, and Werly 2010 (in French) focuses on how religious conversion, the passage from worry to a more resolved faithfulness, is prominent not only in these films but also in his earlier works. A personal statement late in his life, Rossellini 1979 associated his film about Christ with the spirit of revolution inherent in all truly educational projects. See also the material listed under the headings for individual films where religion and crises of faith are clearly in the foreground, e.g., Stromboli, The Flowers of St. Francis, and Voyage to Italy.

  • Bandy, Mary Lea, and Antonio Monda, eds. The Hidden God: Film and Faith. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2003.

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    Rossellini figures prominently in this collection of essays written in conjunction with a MoMA program on films on religion and spirituality: Adriano Aprà on Stromboli (pp. 65–70), Mary Lea Bandy on The Flowers of Saint Francis (pp. 71–75), Martin Scorsese on Europa ’51 (pp. 75–77), and Virgilio Fantuzzi on Voyage to Italy (pp. 81–84).

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  • Fraser, Peter. “Rome, Open City (Roma, Città Aperta, 1945).” In Images of the Passion: The Sacramental Mode in Film. By Peter Fraser, 45–57. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998.

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    Argues that Open City is a deeply religious and sacramental film, based on a liturgical model emphasizing the ongoing and underlying presence of God despite what may appear to be his absence and silence. Attributes this less to Rossellini’s personal beliefs than to the cultural and historical context of the film.

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  • Koval, Francis. “Interview with Roberto Rossellini.” Sight and Sound 19.10 (1951): 393–394.

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    In this brief interview Rossellini stresses that his then-current work, The Flowers of St. Francis, is typical of all his films in its concern with the problem of faith in modern life.

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  • Perry, Alan R. “Literary and Cinematic Representations of Sacred Italian Resistance Memory: The Holy Partisan-Martyr as Hero.” Forum Italicum 33.2 (1999): 433–457.

    DOI: 10.1177/001458589903300207Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the sacralization in art of fallen partisans, based on a long history of images of Christian martyrdom and, ironically, the more recent adoption of this iconography by Fascism. Includes detailed analysis of motifs of martyrdom in Open City, focusing on Manfredi, Don Pietro, and, in a gender reversal, Pina as Christ figures. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Rossellini, Roberto. “The Messiah and a Film about Marx.” Framework 11 (1979): 31–33.

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    Defends his film The Messiah against the claim that it is “reactionary” by noting that its intention, educating people about a world- and life-changing figure, is the essence of revolution. His proposed film about Marx envisions him as someone who similarly extolled the revolutionary power of knowledge.

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  • Simpkins, Jason. “Roberto Rossellini and Religion in the Post-War Era.” In Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema. Edited by Kenneth R. Morefield, 12–23. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2008.

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    Notes the “ongoing presence of religion” in Rossellini’s films throughout his career, specifically in frequent although not always positive representations of the church and clergy, but also more broadly in motivating his viewers to strive for a future characterized by values associated with religion: “simplicity, freedom, and joy of life.”

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  • Werly, Patrick. Roberto Rossellini: Une poétique de la conversion. Paris: Editions du Cerf, 2010.

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    A study of the theme of religious conversion in Rossellini’s works, focusing especially on Stromboli, Voyage in Italy, and Europa ’51, but also the war films, particularly as he discusses the sacrifice of the woman character as one of Rossellini’s recurrent images and themes. In French.

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Gender

Studies of gender in Rossellini gravitate toward his films with Ingrid Bergman, which focus on a central woman character constrained by circumstances and the limitations of a conventional marriage. Jacobowitz 1996 examines how Rossellini’s personal and professional relationship with Bergman helped him turn from his earlier cinematic interests to a new concentration on gender roles and critique of patriarchal institutions. Žižek 1992 focuses on sacrifice as a positive and progressive aspect of Bergman’s persona in her films with Rossellini as well as in her real-life relationship with him. Slaner 1996 uses Europa ’51 to illustrate how Rossellini’s portrayal of women struggling to liberate themselves is inevitably compromised, in part by cultural and institutional circumstances beyond his control. While gender issues are foregrounded in the Bergman films, they are evident as well in his earlier wartime films, and there is substantial disagreement among critics as to whether Rossellini contests or reaffirms conventional gender roles and forms of intimate personal relationships. Marcus 2008 analyzes the careful and sympathetic creation of a woman character, Pina, as arguably the most memorably heroic character in Open City and an icon of neorealism, but Cannon 1997 sees the film as marred by sexism. Landy 2004 acknowledges the many clichés in Open City, particularly in its representations of women, but suggests that ultimately these are overturned. Hipkins 2006 argues that the presentation of the prostitute in a key episode in Paisan is a notable and typical example of the failure of Rossellini—and neorealist filmmakers in general—to go beyond conventional thinking about women’s sexuality. Similarly, for Ginsberg 1990, the negative presentation of homosexuality and its association with Fascism in Open City is dissonant in a film that otherwise claims to be on the side of truth, justice, and freedom for all.

  • Cannon, JoAnn. “Resistance Heroes and Resisting Spectators: Reflections on Rossellini’s Roma, Città Aperta.” The Italianist 17 (1997): 145–157.

    DOI: 10.1179/026143497791967258Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Cannon argues, in an occasionally somewhat overstated manner, that despite the characterization of Pina as a Resistance hero, Open City embodies and reinforces a mythology of sexism and gender stereotyping that is a projection of patriarchal ideology rather than an accurate representation of historical reality.

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  • Ginsberg, Terri. “Nazis and Drifters: The Containment of Radical (Sexual) Knowledge in Two Italian Neorealist Films.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 1.2 (1990): 241–261.

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    Argues that the association of neorealism and true human freedom does not extend to homosexuality, pictured in Open City and Visconti’s Ossessione as narcissistic, deviant, and destructive, allied with evil, decadence, and criminality.

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  • Hipkins, Danielle. “Francesca’s Salvation or Damnation? Resisting Recognition of the Prostitute in Roberto Rossellini’s Paisà (1946).” Studies in European Cinema 3.2 (2006): 153–168.

    DOI: 10.1386/seci.3.2.153_1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the representation of the prostitute in the “Rome” episode illustrates neorealism’s inability to properly recognize female agency and desire. Even apart from this occasionally unconvincing argument, the essay is a useful reminder of the centrality of gender in a film not usually approached with that in mind. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Jacobowitz, Florence. “Rewriting Realism: (Ingrid) Bergman and (Roberto) Rossellini in Europe 1949–1955.” CineAction 41 (1996): 22–32.

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    Focuses primarily on Stromboli and Europa ’51 to examine how Rossellini’s personal and professional relationship helped him turn to films that interrogate and critique conventional gender roles and bourgeois values and institutions, including marriage and the family.

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  • Landy, Marcia. “Diverting Clichés: Femininity, Masculinity, Melodrama, and Neorealism in Open City.” In Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb, 85–105. Cambridge Film Handbooks. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511617133Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Persuasive argument that what sometimes seems clichéd in Open City is often a critique of that very cliché: of conventional notions of cinematic style, genre, and plot; the mechanics of spectatorship; and gender roles. Emphasizes the melodramatic aspects of the film as central to its progressive reconceptualization of femininity and masculinity.

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  • Marcus, Millicent. “Pina’s Pregnancy, Traumatic Realism, and the After-Life of Open City.” Italica 85.4 (2008): 426–438.

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    Examines the killing of Pina, significantly a woman, mother-to-be, and Madonna and Christ figure, as an unforgettable traumatic rupture in Open City, synecdochic figure for neorealism and Italy, and often-alluded-to image in postwar culture and especially cinema, most notably in Visconti’s Bellissima and Pasolini’s Mamma Roma. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Slaner, Stephen E. “‘Eccentric Subjects’: De Lauretis and Rossellini.” Review of Education/Pedagogy/Cultural Studies 18.1 (1996): 61–72.

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    Sees Europa ’51 as an illustration of de Lauretis’s assertion of the limits of a film’s ability to portray gender iconoclasm and unconventionality. Argues that the Bergman character, Irene, both is and is not an “eccentric subject,” capably resisting and liberated from patriarchal constraints and values. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Žižek, Slavoj. “Why Is Woman a Symptom of Man?” In Enjoy Your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out. By Slavoj Žižek, 31–67. New York: Routledge, 1992.

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    Dense and highly technical but provocative examination of Ingrid Bergman, in her roles in Stromboli and Europa ’51 and real-life controversial relationship with Rossellini, as an exemplary and unconventional sacrifice, defined not as a capitulation to some higher power or institution but as a heroic attempt to face up to the “abyss of the real.” Originally published as “Rossellini: Woman as Symptom of Man,” in 1990.

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Critical Reassessments

Perhaps like most major filmmakers, Rossellini was (and continues to be) controversial, often by his own design and prompting, and constantly reevaluated, particularly at moments when he seemed to be making new kinds of films and also when he seemed to be in danger of being forgotten, neglected, underappreciated, or misunderstood. Such reassessments are of course often captured in detail in the book-length studies cited in other sections of this bibliography, which take “long” views of his career and the critical reception of and debates about his films and approach to filmmaking; and many of Rossellini’s own writings are provocative, defensive, and otherwise probing self-analyses and reexaminations of his cinematic evolution. The articles cited in the present section are somewhat briefer but nevertheless valuable reassessments selected from different periods to give a sampling of critics engaged in “rethinking” Rossellini, especially the unity or discontinuity of his career and the overall value of his work. Reviewing Rossellini after his first ten years as a filmmaker, Venturi 1949 offers a refreshingly direct and balanced appreciation of his constant attention to the “human element,” the bedrock beneath his fluctuations between being a cinematic poet and an illustrator. Harcourt-Smith 1950, writing at about the same time as Venturi, similarly praises Rossellini very highly, although he also notes what he feels are his numerous weaknesses as a filmmaker. More than a decade later, Casty 1964 feels the need to defend Rossellini from critical derision and neglect, and Sarris 1964 uses the occasion of a Rossellini retrospective to assert his status as one of the great auteurs. Strick 1976 and the articles in “Rossellini” take stock of the director near the end of his career and attempt to define his greatness and defend him against his critics. More than a decade after his death, Luzzi 2011 uses a restoration of Open City to argue for a restoration of Rossellini’s reputation as one of the creators and masters of modern cinema.

  • Casty, Alan. “The Achievement of Roberto Rossellini.” Film Comment 2.4 (1964): 17–21.

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    Strong defense of Rossellini from what Casty takes to be his “almost complete critical disregard, ill-regard and mis-regard.” Brief critical summaries of his films up to General Della Rovere, praising his “artistic integrity,” “fertile inventiveness,” and pivotal role in creating a new form of cinema.

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  • Harcourt-Smith, Simon. “The Stature of Rossellini.” Sight and Sound 19.2 (1950): 86–88.

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    Thoughtful evaluation of Rossellini’s films on the eve of the release of Stromboli, celebrating their cinematic poetry, imagistic power, and patient examination of “our modern predicament,” but critical of his Puritanism, formulaic characters, verbosity, lack of “proper narrative,” and “chill intellectuality.”

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  • Luzzi, Joseph. “Reassessing Rossellini.” American Scholar 80.1 (2011): 102–106.

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    Uses the release of a restored DVD version of Open City to rediscover and praise the lasting power of that film, the overall consistency of Rossellini’s moral vision throughout his diverse films, and his lifelong bravery in “embracing” chance and change.

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  • “Rossellini.” Framework 10 (Spring 1979): 44–48.

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    Reports from a conference held to reevaluate Rossellini, particularly in the light of the unresolved debate between Bazin and Aristarco about whether he abandoned the essence of neorealism. Contains an overview essay by Don Ranvaud and insightful analyses and defenses of Rossellini by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith and Edoardo Bruno.

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  • Sarris, Andrew. “Rossellini Rediscovered.” Film Culture 32 (1964): 60–63.

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    Prompted by a retrospective screening, Sarris argues for the greatness of Rossellini as an auteur, separable from neorealism, more revolutionary and compassionate than Antonioni, and possessing a consistent worldview visible throughout his films. Concludes with detailed analysis of his use of the zoom, conveying both separation from and immersion in historical events.

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  • Strick, Philip. “Rossellini in ‘76.” Sight and Sound 45.2 (1976): 88–91.

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    Notes that Rossellini’s ongoing presentation of childlike innocent characters led to disillusionment and defeat or death, but commitment to the struggle for honesty, integrity, and social usefulness. Includes insightful comments on Italy: Year One and The Messiah, concluding with a detailed interview with Rossellini on these films.

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  • Venturi, Lauro. “Roberto Rossellini.” Hollywood Quarterly 4.1 (1949): 1–13.

    DOI: 10.2307/1209379Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Appreciative review of Rossellini’s career up to Stromboli. Venturi sees no contradictions, strains, or betrayals of neorealism in Rossellini’s turn from war subjects to experiments like L‘Amore and then to a film that “might get to Radio City Music Hall.” Praises in particular his spontaneity, lyricism, and interest in “present-day life.” Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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A Rossellini Miscellany

The essays cited in this section are samples of the wide range of aspects of Rossellini films that have attracted critical attention and the variety of critical perspectives from which his films have been interpreted, many of which complicate our sense of him as a historical filmmaker. Vighi 2004 takes a Lacanian approach in examining subjectivity and sexuality in several early films. Gelley 2004 also relies on several postmodern theorists in exploring Rossellini’s “cinema of poetry,” which focuses particularly on the inner life of a character. Torriglia 1998 emphasizes the conflicted sense of history that emerges in Rossellini’s historical films, Germany Year Zero in particular. Brunette 1979 gives a balanced overview of the common question about the similarities between Rossellini and Brecht, both of whom use distancing techniques in their treatment of historical subjects, but concludes that Rossellini is ultimately somewhat less radical and more conventional than Brecht. Both Norman 1974 and Lawton 1978 confirm that like Brecht and of course numerous other artists, Rossellini’s work throughout his career was meant to be educational. Belton and Tector 1980 focuses on a key formal element in his later works, his persistent and innovative use of a zoom lens. The author of Sarzynski 2012 is only the latest of many critics to study the far-reaching influence of Rossellini and neorealism into the early 21st century, in this case on filmmakers in a remote region in Brazil.

  • Belton, John, and Lyle Tector. “The Bionic Eye: The Aesthetics of the Zoom.” Film Comment 16.5 (1980): 11–17.

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    Rossellini gets “pride of place” in Belton and Tector’s defense and analysis of the aesthetic value and multiple uses of the zoom in films. They argue that Rossellini’s Pancinor gives structure to but preserves the integrity of space and creates a complex double perspective on events, both “remote and immediate.”

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  • Brunette, Peter. “Just How Brechtian Is Rossellini?” Film Criticism 3.2 (1979): 30–42.

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    Surveys numerous similarities between Rossellini and Brecht, particularly their rejection of conventional aesthetic pleasure in favor of art as historically accurate, informative, and educational. But concludes by stressing their fundamental differences, marked especially by Rossellini’s general lack of reflexivity and greater acceptance of illusionism, character identification, and emotion in his films.

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  • Gelley, Ora. “Europa ’51: The Face of the Star in Neorealism’s Urban Landscape.” Film Studies (2004): 39–57.

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    Uses theories of Laura Mulvey, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Gilles Deleuze, and André Bazin in analyzing how Europa ’51 embodies an innovative and unconventional “cinema of poetry.” Emphasizes how images of Bergman’s face disrupt the narrative and establish the real landscape of the film, not the city but the damaged psyche of a traumatized woman.

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  • Lawton, Harry. “Rossellini’s Didactic Cinema.” Sight and Sound 47.4 (1978): 25–53.

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    Traces the continuity and development of Rossellini’s conception of the fundamental educational purposes of film throughout his career.

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  • Norman, Louis. “Rossellini’s Case Histories for Moral Education.” Film Quarterly 27.4 (1974): 11–16.

    DOI: 10.2307/1211390Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sees all Rossellini’s work as didactic and historical, but notes the shift from melodrama in the early works to restraint, dedramatization, and demythification in his middle period (e.g., The Flowers of St. Francis and Viva l’Italia) and especially his later television films, examined as lessons in “energy, faith, commitment, [and] intelligence.” Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Sarzynski, Sarah. “Documenting the Social Reality of Brazil: Roberto Rossellini, the Paraíban Documentary School, and the Cinema Novistas.” In Global Neorealism: The Transnational History of a Film Style. Edited by Saverio Giovacchini and Robert Sklar, 209–225. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2012.

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    Brief comments on Rossellini’s visit to Brazil in 1958 and plan to make a film on “hunger and misery” in northeastern Brazil. The film was never made, but the essay documents the direct influence of Rossellini and neorealism on Brazilian Cinema Novo and the documentary films of the northeast region.

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  • Torriglia, Anna Maria. “‘Time Is No Longer the Same’: Ambivalence and Denial or the Uneasy Relationship with the Past in Pietro Germi’s Gioventù Perduta and Roberto Rossellini’s Germania Anno Zero.” Forum Italicum 32.1 (1998): 86–107.

    DOI: 10.1177/001458589803200105Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggests that one of the critical problems faced by postwar Italy, and reflected in these films by Germi and Rossellini, is an unmanageably conflicted sense of the past, which represents a shameful time that must be repudiated but continues to haunt, confuse, and misguide the next generations. Available online by subscription.

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  • Vighi, Fabio. “Encounters in the Real: Subjectivity and Its Excess in Roberto Rossellini.” Studies in European Cinema 1.3 (2004): 185–197.

    DOI: 10.1386/seci.1.3.185/0Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Highly technical analysis of subjectivity in Open City and Paisan, applying Lacan’s notion of jouissance, a complex response—“a sort of pleasure in displeasure”—to disturbing aspects of life, including war and also “the troubling enjoyment of sexuality.” Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Individual Films

All of Rossellini’s films have their admirers, and his body of work is well worth studying in its entirety. But this section focuses on a selection of his films that have attracted the most critical attention and that are particularly useful in understanding his development, significance, and influence as a filmmaker.

Open City (1945)

Open City was a breakthrough film for Rossellini, and a watershed moment in the history of cinema, identified as one of the founding works of neorealism, a movement that promised to bring new life and relevance to filmmaking and outline an alternative to conventional Hollywood methods, style, and products. Aprà 1994 collects much valuable material on the making of and critical response to the film. The stories behind the film have proven to be nearly as captivating as the stories told in the film, and are well-described and dramatized in the novel Pirro 1983 and the film based on it (Lizzani 1995, cited under Visual Material). The essays in Gottlieb 2004 discuss the production and historical circumstances of Open City, its relationship to Rossellini’s earlier films and Fascist-era filmmaking, its connection to neorealism, and its ongoing influence. Marcus 1986 and Landy 2005 offer extremely informative brief introductions to and critical appraisals of the film, while Forgacs 2000 gives a more detailed overview and analysis, including an extensive critical summary. Sitney 1995 studies the precariously balanced political alliances dramatized by Rossellini, as well as the recurrent use of Christian iconography. Burgoyne 1979 outlines significant ways that the film diverges from elements that commonly define neorealism.

  • Aprà, Adriano, ed. Roma città aperta di Roberto Rossellini. Rome: Comune di Roma, Assessorato alla Cultura, 1994.

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    Detailed dossier on the film, including much production material, comments by people involved in making the film, critical studies, and early reviews. In Italian.

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  • Burgoyne, Robert. “The Imaginary and the Neo-Real.” Enclitic 3.1 (1979): 16–34.

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    Persuasively demonstrates that alongside the much-vaunted literal realism of Open City there are many dream-like elements, carefully established symbols, and expressionist evocations of the irrational, unconscious, and mythological.

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  • Forgacs, David. Rome Open City (Roma città aperta). BFI Film Classics. London: British Film Institute, 2000.

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    Comprehensive discussion, with especially detailed consideration of the production history of Open City (often correcting mistaken legends about the making of the film) and its critical reception and ongoing influence. Includes an extensive sequence by sequence analysis, with particular attention to the representation of the city.

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  • Gottlieb, Sidney, ed. Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City. Cambridge Film Handbooks. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511617133Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Six essays and a long introduction on the making of the film, its ongoing role in cinematic and cultural history, especially in Italy, what is both old and new in Rossellini’s neorealism, the visual design of Open City, and its embodiment of a progressive politics tinged with both exuberant hope and tragic doom.

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  • Landy, Marcia. “Rome Open City (1945): From Movie to Method.” In Film Analysis: A Norton Reader. Edited by Jeffrey Geiger and R. L. Rutsky, 400–421. New York: Norton, 2005.

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    Goes beyond conventional brief introductions to Open City by discussing its continuity with Fascist-era films, the melodramatic and allegorical as well as realist dimensions of the film, and its complex presentation of femininity and masculinity.

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  • Marcus, Millicent. “Rossellini’s Open City: The Founding.” In Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism. By Millicent Marcus, 33–53. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.

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    Arguably the best available brief introduction to Open City, with much emphasis on humor, the characters and their interaction, and the various ways that the film envisions the retaking of Rome from the Fascists.

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  • Pirro, Ugo. Celluloide. Milan: Rizzoli, 1983.

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    Fact-based although not always historically accurate novel, with invented dialogue, dramatizing the making of Open City. Gallagher 1998 (115–179 and notes 718–723; cited under Biographical/Critical Studies) repeatedly cross-references Celluloide in a carefully documented discussion of Open City. Made into a film directed by Carlo Lizzani (see Lizzani 1995, cited under Visual Material). In Italian.

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  • Sitney, P. Adams. “Rossellini’s Resistance.” In Vital Crises in Italian Cinema: Iconography, Stylistics, Politics. By P. Adams Sitney, 28–57. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995.

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    Examines Open City and Paisan as attempts to envision an end to Fascism and a birth of a united society, building off an alliance of the Left and the Church, a volatile combination that proved to be unstable. Fine comments throughout on the religious iconography in both films that embodies dispiriting victimization but also perhaps redemptive transformation.

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Paisan (1946)

Despite the international success of Open City and its continuing hold on the Italian cultural imagination, Paisan continues to gain critical attention as a more innovative film, and one more truly representative of the essence of neorealism. The dossier on the film in Aprà 1987, in Italian, contains much valuable production and critical material, nicely supplemented by the selection of contemporary reviews excerpted in Manvell 1949. Muscio 2004 provides a good introductory overview of the film’s production and an analysis of its style and structure. A key critical issue is the extent to which Paisan is pessimistic or optimistic. Warshow 1970 emphasizes its elements of death and defeat, reiterated by Amberson 2009, which sees the film’s plot and structure as reinforcing suffering and meaninglessness. But Marcus 2002, while recognizing the somber and tragic overtones in Paisan, calls attention to the many ways it triumphs over rather than succumbs to defeatism. More specialized studies include the Conley 1991 analysis of the subtle but significant appearance of lettering throughout the film, underscoring its commentary on the difficulties of communication, and the Hipkins 2006 examination of what the author considers to be the tellingly unsympathetic representation of the prostitute in one segment of the film.

  • Amberson, Deborah. “Battling History: Narrative Wars in Roberto Rossellini’s Paisà.” Italica 86.3 (2009): 392–407.

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    Detailed analysis of thematic and structural aspects of Paisan that support a reading of the film as deeply pessimistic, wherein the repeated tales of “meaningless suffering and anonymous sacrifice” confirm the impossibility of progress and undermine any confidence in the stability and intelligible linearity of both historical and cinematic narratives. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Aprà, Adriano, ed. Rosselliniana: Bibliografia internazionale, dossier “Paisà.” Rome: Di Giacomo Editore, 1987.

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    Contains script suggestions, notes, scene suggestions, and dialogue for what became Paisan. Also includes comments by various people associated with the film, including Rossellini, and numerous reviews in Italian periodicals and newspapers. In Italian.

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  • Conley, Tom. “Facts and Figures of History: Paisan.” In Film Hieroglyphs: Ruptures in Classical Cinema. By Tom Conley, 102–129. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.

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    Intriguing but not always convincing analysis of the significance of “invisible scripture” in Paisan, embedded textual figures such as labels on food packages, lettering on helmets, and the superimposed end title. Revealing comments on the mixed discourse of the film, theme of failed communication, and images of beheading.

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  • Hipkins, Danielle. “Francesca’s Salvation or Damnation? Resisting Eecognition of the Prostitute in Roberto Rossellini’s Paisà (1946).” Studies in European Cinema 3.2 (2006): 153–168.

    DOI: 10.1386/seci.3.2.153_1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reads the “Rome” episode in Paisan where a US soldier fails to identify a prostitute he meets as the woman he earlier had idealized and celebrated with as, ironically, an illustration of neorealism’s inability to properly recognize female agency and desire, which remain unacceptably transgressive and unrepresentable. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Manvell, Roger. “Paisà, How It Struck Our Contemporaries.” Penguin Film Review 9 (1949): 53–60.

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    Anthology of brief quotations, positive and negative, from numerous British reviews of Paisan, commenting on such topics as Rossellini’s humanism, the technical qualities of the film, its anti-British attitudes, and whether or not it is “great.”

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  • Marcus, Millicent. “National Identity by Means of Montage in Rossellini’s Paisan.” In After Fellini: National Cinema in the Postmodern Age. By Millicent Marcus, 15–38. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

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    Arguing against interpretations of Paisan as a defeatist tale of inevitable division and incommunicability, Marcus highlights the transformations, reappropriations, and cinematic structures of the film (especially montage and episodic form) as emblems of “unity in diversity” and forces helping to achieve national unity and knowledge, however tragic and painful.

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  • Muscio, Giuliana. “Paisà/Paisan.” In The Cinema of Italy. Edited by Giorgio Bertellini and Gian Piero Brunetta, 30–40. London: Wallflower, 2004.

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    Brief survey of the production and critical history of Paisan and balanced analysis of its documentary and artistic elements, particularly its intricately linked sequences, unconventional narrative structure, and evocative use of landscape.

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  • Warshow, Robert. “Paisan.” In The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre and Other Aspects of Popular Culture. By Robert Warshow. New York: Atheneum, 1970.

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    Influential analysis, emphasizing Paisan as a film resonant with death and defeat, key elements of modern Italian history and culture by no means overcome with the fall of Fascism. Praises the primacy of unforgettable images over ideas in the film and Rossellini’s “feeling for particularity,” but notes his lapses into sentimentality.

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The Miracle (1948)

Paired with A Human Voice, also featuring Anna Magnani, and released as L‘Amore, The Miracle got most of the attention, largely because of the controversy it caused and ensuing legal actions. Pressure primarily from Catholic groups who felt that the film was offensive and sacrilegious in its portrayal of a simple woman claiming to be pregnant with a son of God led to its being banned, but counterefforts by the distributor overturned the ban and established First Amendment protection to films for the first time. The controversy is covered in detail by Draper 1990 and even more extensively by Johnson 2008. Tropiano 2010 touches on the legal actions, but concentrates more on analyzing the film, particularly Magnani’s contribution to it. Fellini 1948 recounts his involvement with the film as a writer and an actor.

  • Draper, Ellen. “‘Controversy Has Probably Destroyed Forever the Context’: The Miracle and Movie Censorship in America in the Fifties.” Velvet Light Trap 25 (1990): 69–79.

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    Presents brief histories of key legal cases regarding censorship of films from the 1930s through the 1950s. Notes how the controversy over Rossellini’s film was unfocused, rarely included serious discussion of the film, and illustrated “basic confusion” about “the nature of the film medium” and “the aims of censorship.”

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  • Fellini, Federico. “Anna Magnani dans Le Miracle.” La Revue di Cinéma 3.14 (1948): 15–24.

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    Detailed commentary by Fellini on his work with Rossellini on The Miracle. In Italian.

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  • Johnson, William Bruce. Miracles and Sacrilege: Roberto Rossellini, the Church, and Film Censorship in Hollywood. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

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    Comprehensive treatment of the controversy over The Miracle, setting the legal struggle to have the banning of the film overturned (accomplished by a Supreme Court decision in 1952) in the context of American anticommunism, demagoguery, cultural and institutional provinciality and parochialism, and embattled liberalism.

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  • Tropiano, Stephen. “Il miracolo (The Miracle).” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 27.5 (2010): 440–442.

    DOI: 10.1080/10509208.2010.495019Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brief summary of the legal controversy surrounding attempts to censor the film, and analysis focusing on The Miracle as a showcase for and homage to Anna Magnani, authentically portraying a woman of “genuine faith and devotion to God.” Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Stromboli (1949)

Stromboli is the first film Rossellini made with Ingrid Bergman, and it initiates a readily identifiable phase in his career (discussed in detail in the material cited in the section on Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman) that for some marks his rejection of neorealism and for others marks his creative transformation of the movement that he is so often associated with. Gelley 2008 focuses on Rossellini’s creative use of her star persona in Stromboli (for her comments on Rossellini’s use of Bergman in Europa ’51, see Gelley 2004, cited under A Rossellini Miscellany). Thomas 2008 examines the unconventional narrative style of the film and the powerful effects of establishing the Bergman character as a center of consciousness through whom we see and feel the various events. Camper 2000 traces how the film visually conveys the complex relationships that link characters, their environment, and a paradoxically absent but present God. Rossellini 1992 discusses the spiritual torment and quest at the heart of Stromboli, a topic analyzed in further detail by Aprà 2003.

  • Aprà, Adriano. “Stromboli.” In The Hidden God: Film and Faith. Edited by Mary Lea Bandy and Antonio Monda, 65–70. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2003.

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    Considers Stromboli Rossellini’s most successful embodiment of “his idea of the holy in a physical reality.” Careful analysis of some of the major differences among the three versions of this film, particularly the endings.

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  • Camper, Fred. “Volcano Girl.” Chicago Reader, 28 September 2000.

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    This review of Stromboli considers Rossellini as an “antistylist” with no conscious and systematic plan, but notes that the key to understanding the movie is its imagery and visual design, vividly conveying the relationship of the characters with each other, with the environment, and with God, as well as the main character’s interiority and transformation.

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  • Gelley, Ora. “Ingrid Bergman’s Star Persona and the Alien Space of Stromboli.” Cinema Journal 47.2 (2008): 26–51.

    DOI: 10.1353/cj.2008.0008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Summary of the development of Bergman’s star persona, followed by an extensive analysis of Stromboli, focusing especially on her character’s relationship with the landscape of the island, which evokes the key personal and cultural problems examined in the film. Persuasive emphasis on how Rossellini developed rather than completely repudiated aspects of Bergman’s earlier persona. Available online by subscription.

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  • Rossellini, Roberto. “Why I Directed Stromboli.” In My Method: Writings and Interviews. By Roberto Rossellini, 29–30. New York: Marsillo, 1992.

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    Brief outline of the key themes he wanted to convey in Stromboli: the torment of a character isolated by “aggressive egotism,” and her struggle against a narrow-minded society and hostile nature, screens for her real antagonist, God, whose grace is invoked only at the end to “free her from her inhuman solitude.”

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  • Thomas, Paul. “Gone Fishin’? Rossellini’s Stromboli, Visconti’s La Terra Trema.” Film Quarterly 62.2 (2008): 20–25.

    DOI: 10.1525/fq.2008.62.2.20Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contrasts Rossellini and Visconti, both of whom maintained a certain distance from being typed as neorealists, emphasizing memorable moments of “dramatic interruption” in Stromboli and Voyage in Italy, in each case made more powerful by being seen in part through the eyes of a character played by Ingrid Bergman. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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The Flowers of St. Francis (1950)

Rossellini called this film one of his three favorites, along with Paisan and Europa ’51, and saw in St. Francis “the most accomplished form of the Christian ideal” (Rossellini 1992). While it is often considered to be one of his post-neorealist films, Rossellini emphasized how his early and late films all reflect his constant concern with problems of faith (Koval 1951). Doebler 2011 focuses on the iconography of the film, while Bandy 2003 and Bonsaver 2007 emphasize Rossellini’s presentation of the comic elements that characterize the charmingly subversive character and mentality of St. Francis. Millen 2000 examines this silliness as a political as well as a spiritual strategy.

  • Bandy, Mary Lea. “Francesco Giullare di Dio.” In The Hidden God: Film and Faith. Edited by Mary Lea Bandy and Antonio Monda, 71–75. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2003.

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    Emphasizes that the film is not a biography or a study of an institution but an episodic rendering of the infectious spirit and mentality of St. Francis, conveyed to his companions and from them to others in the world. Sees the film as, despite its apparently simple-minded humor, a complex spiritual exploration.

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  • Bonsaver, Guido. “You Must Be Joking: Roberto Rossellini, Francis, God’s Jester.” Sight and Sound 17.5 (2007): 28–30.

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    Relates the innocence, simplicity, and whimsical irrationality of Rossellini’s film to similar elements in works by Fellini (a collaborator on this film), De Sica’s Miracle in Milan, and Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful, all aimed at “social critique and search for purity.”

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  • Doebler, Peter. “Screening the Silly: The Christian Iconography of Roberto Rossellini’s Francesco, Giullare di Dio.” Journal of Religion and Film 15.1 (2011).

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    Outlines the traditional iconography of St. Francis and the extent to which the film presents, in Rossellini’s words, “a new side” of the saint. Detailed summary of the film, illustrating the saint’s immersion in the real world and his effects on others.

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  • Koval, Francis. “Interview with Roberto Rossellini.” Sight and Sound 19.10 (1951): 393–394.

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    Brief but important comments by Rossellini on how the problem of faith in modern life is a central theme in his films, running from Open City to his latest work at the time of the interview, The Flowers of St. Francis, a study of St. Francis’s “whimsical, unruffled approach . . . to everyday life.”

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  • Millen, Alan. “Francis God’s Jester.” In Roberto Rossellini: Magician of the Real. Edited by David Forgacs, Sarah Lutton, and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, 80–94. London: British Film Institute, 2000.

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    Close reading of the ways this film presents and analyzes a figure embodying what Rossellini described as “vulnerable idealism.” Concluding emphasis on the political as well as spiritual relevance of Francis’s exemplary simplicity and commitment to “preach peace throughout the world.”

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  • Rossellini, Roberto. “The Message of The Flowers of St. Francis.” In My Method: Writings and Interviews. By Roberto Rossellini, 31–32. New York: Marsillo, 1992.

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    Brief comments on how this film focuses on “the merrier aspect of the Franciscan experience,” their playfulness and freedom from material things, which can be a transforming example to the greedy and joyless modern world.

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Voyage in Italy (1953)

Unquestionably one of his most important films, Voyage in Italy confirms that for Rossellini there was indeed life and cinema after neorealism. The release of the film prompted a heated debate, surveyed by Greenberg 1999, between critics who criticized the film as an abandonment of the movement Rossellini was often credited with pioneering and those who applauded its turn inward and careful attention to the interrelated problems of marriage and faith. It is the latter whose arguments and analyses have proven to be most persuasive. Hillier 1985 reprints key articles by Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer that praise Voyage in Italy as one of the founding works of modern cinema. Wood 1985 provides a brief but useful overview of the film’s portrayal of the spiritual through the material. Bohne 1979 studies its relationship to James Joyce’s story, “The Dead,” a topic also taken up by the author of Luzzi 2010 in his more far-reaching analysis of how the film has literary roots and alludes to literature in its plot but also attempts to establish a cinematically poetic style. Bruno 2002 relates the main female character’s wanderings to earlier conventions of the Grand Tour, and Mulvey 2000 focuses on the symbolic resonance of key places in the journey, a subject she returns to at various points in her full-length commentary track on the DVD version of the film (Mulvey 2010).

  • Bohne, Luciana. “Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia: A Variation on a Theme by Joyce.” Film Criticism 3.2 (1979): 43–52.

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    Detailed analysis of the film’s connection with Joyce’s “The Dead,” about a condescending man detached from life and a woman whose vivid memory of loss is both saddening and a sign of irrepressible deep human feeling. Argues that the concluding epiphany does not save Rossellini’s characters from their “living death.”

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  • Bruno, Giuliana. “Views from Home.” In Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film. By Giuliana Bruno, 361–399. New York: Verso, 2002.

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    Situates Voyage in Italy within the tradition of views of Naples and the Grand Tour. Discusses Katherine Joyce’s movements around the city and its environs as a modern, female version of “traveling pleasure.”

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  • Greenberg, Izzy. “Cahiers de (Roberto) Rossellini.” CineAction 48 (1999): 42–46.

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    Overview of the debate prompted by the release of Voyage in Italy, with Rossellini attacked by some for abandoning neorealism and defended by others, notably Rohmer, Truffaut, and Rivette in Cahiers du Cinéma, as pointing the way for a new kind of cinematic focusing on “intellectual, emotional and spiritual realms of existence.”

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  • Hillier, Jim, ed. Cahiers du Cinéma, The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

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    Includes Jacques Rivette’s “Letter on Rossellini” (pp. 192–204) and Eric Rohmer’s “The Land of Miracles” (pp. 205–208), pivotal documents analyzing, praising, and defending Rossellini’s films, using Voyage to Italy as the focal point, that seemed to repudiate his early neorealism. Properly understood and appreciated, they argue, these films open a new path for modern cinema.

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  • Luzzi, Joseph. “Rossellini’s Cinema of Poetry: Voyage to Italy.” Adaptation 3.2 (2010): 61–81.

    DOI: 10.1093/adaptation/apq006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Detailed examination of literary elements of Voyage to Italy, in its adaptation of aspects of Joyce’s story “The Dead,” incorporation of a poem in the plot and consciousness of Katherine, but mostly in its embodiment of a kind of nonverbal cinematic poetry prefiguring what Pasolini later defined and espoused. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Mulvey, Laura. “Vesuvian Topographies: The Eruption of the Past in Journey to Italy.” In Roberto Rossellini: Magician of the Real. Edited by David Forgacs, Sarah Lutton, and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, 95–111. London: British Film Institute, 2000.

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    Focuses on how the film is structured as a series of literal and metaphoric journeys through places that are resonant and symbolic (e.g., Vesuvius, Cumae), conveying the central polarities that the film meditates on: North and South, past and present, materiality and spirituality, and life and death.

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  • Mulvey, Laura. “Commentary.” In Journey to Italy, 1953. DVD. London: British Film Institute, 2010.

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    Very informative and accessible running commentary, containing much information on the making of the film and its key themes and visual style.

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  • Wood, Robin. “Viaggio in Italia.” In Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. Edited by Christopher Lyon. New York: Putnam, 1985.

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    Brief comments on Rossellini’s turn from neorealism to more psychological, spiritual, interpersonal, and in this case, somewhat autobiographical films: here Bergman plays a role but also reveals much about herself. Concludes stressing the openness of the ending. This essay should be paired with an earlier discussion of the film in Wood 1974b (cited under Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman).

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General Della Rovere (1959)

Rossellini once confessed that he was “ashamed” of this film as “dishonest” (quoted in Rossi 1988, p. 19; cited under Bibliographies, Filmographies, and Reference Guides), but it was a key part of the rehabilitation of his cinematic reputation, described in early reviews as a telling fable of the “chaotic ideological condition of Italy” (Clark 1960) and as a substantive presentation of themes dealt with in his earlier wartime films but shaped into a more accessible and commercially viable format (Polt 1960). Braudy 1978 sees General Della Rovere as a successful blend of Rossellini’s early films on society and politics and later films with Bergman, exploratory documentaries of the individual self. Bondanella 1993 stresses both its continuity with Rossellini’s classic neorealist films and its experiment with a new style, using the zoom lens that would characterize his later works, and exploration of meta-cinematic rather than strictly historical themes, such as the fabrication, manipulation, and misrepresentation of identity and reality. Forgacs 2003 identifies these latter themes as “Pirandellian.”

  • Bondanella, Peter. “Il Generale Della Rovere: Commercial Success and a Reconsideration of Neorealism.” In The Films of Roberto Rossellini. By Peter Bondanella, 112–124. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511620225.008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers this commercially successful film as an important and influential revision of the conventional neorealist approach to the war, adding elements of irony and tragicomedy, and also as an insightful meditation on a recurrent theme for Rossellini and neorealism in general: “the relationship of fact and fiction in the cinema.”

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  • Braudy, Leo. “Rossellini: From Open City to General Della Rovere.” In Great Film Directors: A Critical Anthology. Edited by Leo Braudy and Morris Dickstein, 655–673. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

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    Interprets General Della Rovere as a pivotal film in Rossellini’s career, reflecting backward on his earlier films about the need to enter into history, no matter how dark that passage may be, and looking forward to his later films emphasizing the importance of spectacle and theatricality in individual and public life.

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  • Clark, Arthur B. “General Della Rovere.” Films in Review 11.9 (1960): 552–553.

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    Even as he judges the film as not adding up to much, Clark highlights its “sociological and political interest”: its attempt to please both the Left and the Right illustrates the unsteady balance of contemporary Italian politics. Most notable is the tour de force performance by Vittorio De Sica.

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  • Forgacs, David. “Assumed and Ascribed Identities: Rossellini’s Il generale Della Rovere.” Pirandello Studies 23 (2003): 11–21.

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    Sees the film’s reflexivity about acting, performance, and assuming a persona as “Pirandellian.” Despite this unconventional modernist aesthetic and theme, though, the film marks a turn to a politically more conservative phase in Rossellini’s work.

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  • Polt, Harriet R. “Review of Il Generale Della Rovere.” Film Quarterly 13.3 (1960): 52–53.

    DOI: 10.2307/1210442Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Captures the enthusiasm felt in some circles by Rossellini’s return to making films with popular appeal. Compares it to Open City as a Resistance film, less urgent and immediate but more universal, and entertaining and encouraging to a large part because of “the familiar humanness of De Sica” in the title role. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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The Rise to Power of Louis XIV (1966)

The critical consensus is that The Rise to Power of Louis XIV is the most successful and important of Rossellini’s later works, illustrating the effectiveness of his reliance on long sequence shots and a zoom and dolly apparatus of his own design and confirming his faith in television as a vehicle allowing for the production and distribution of historical films able to educate a wide audience. Guynn 2006 uses Rossellini in general and this film in particular to help support his overall argument for the usefulness of film as a medium to capture and convey historical truths accurately and effectively. Grindon 1987 praises the historical value of The Rise to Power of Louis XIV, especially because of its focus on institutional and ceremonial rather than personal forces driving historical change. MacBean 1971–1972 similarly shows that the film, though it seems to foreground a person in its title, nevertheless concentrates on the extra-personal engines of history, conveyed particularly well by Rossellini’s patient attention to the material reality that surrounds his characters. Bondanella 1993 provides a detailed analysis of the main themes of the film and overview of its distinctive and innovative style, and summarizes the conventional approach that some critics, including Bondanella himself, contest. For example, he disputes what some claim to be the radical elements of the film, finding it in many respects more classical than Marxist and modernist. The author of Walsh 1977 concurs, and while he praises The Rise to Power of Louis XIV as an insightful critique of spectacle, he sees it as itself based on a kind of manipulative use of cinematic spectacle. And Kelman 1969 turns from the usual concern with the film’s historical and institutional elements to focus on its portrayal of a personal, indeed tragic, drama.

  • Bondanella, Peter. “La Prise de Pouvoir par Louis XIV: Toward a Didactic Cinema for Television.” In The Films of Roberto Rossellini. By Peter Bondanella, 125–137. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511620225.009Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fine close reading of the major themes (e.g., appearance vs. realty, politics as spectacle) and distinctive style of Rossellini’s most successful example of a new cinema of useful information rather than entertainment, illusion, and profit. Sees this film as more aligned with Machiavelli, Racine, and Corneille than Marx and Godard.

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  • Grindon, Leger. “Drama and Spectacle as Historical Explanation in the Historical Fiction Film.” Film and History 17.4 (1987): 74–80.

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    Contrasts A Man for All Seasons, where the emphasis on drama highlights the personal elements behind historical change, and Rossellini’s Louis XIV, where the emphasis on spectacle portrays the shaping and controlling power of institutional and ceremonial forces, conveyed visually by group shots, long takes, flat dialogue, and dedramatized incidents. Available online by subscription.

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  • Guynn, William. “Case Study: Constructing the King’s Body in Roberto Rossellini’s The Rise to Power of Louis XIV (1966).” In Writing History in Film. By William Guynn, 80–95. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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    Investigates the ability of the cinematic image to convey reality truthfully, central to neorealism and Rossellini’s later educational films. Focuses on The Rise to Power of Louis XIV and how it succeeds as a viable and informative historical work by extensive research, careful selection of material, reflexivity, and “representational irony.”

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  • Kelman, Ken. “Rossellini’s Tragedy of Manners.” Film Culture 47 (1969): 26–27.

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    Instead of focusing on the film’s historical accuracy, Kelman examines it as a study of manners, dramatizing universal human foibles and the ways that we are both protected and trapped by ceremonies and rituals. Considers Louis XIV as a tragic figure, successful at the cost of his private, integral self.

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  • MacBean, James Roy. “Rossellini’s Materialist Mise-en-Scène of La Prise de Pouvoir par Louis XIV.” Film Quarterly 25.2 (1971–1972): 20–29.

    DOI: 10.2307/1211537Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that materialism is the subject, the philosophical foundation, and the guiding stylistic method throughout this film, which is primarily about not a person but rather the shaping force of circumstances, processes, and, most tellingly, “things,” presented in extensive concrete detail. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Walsh, Martin. “Rome, Open City, The Rise to Power of Louis XIV: Re-evaluating Rossellini.” Jump Cut 15 (1977): 13–15.

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    Focuses on Rossellini’s two “most totemically influential” films to illustrate that they are important precursors to but not fully radical films themselves. Argues that Open City is more conventional and illusionistic than often recognized, and Louis IV’s powerful analysis and critique of spectacle is itself indebted to a cinema of spectacle and manipulation.

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