In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Roberto Rossellini

  • Introduction
  • Biographical/Critical Studies
  • Collections of Critical Studies
  • Rossellini’s Writings and Interviews
  • Bibliographies, Filmographies, and Reference Guides
  • Visual Material
  • Rossellini and Neorealism
  • Before Open City
  • The War Trilogy
  • Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman
  • Television/Historical Films

Cinema and Media Studies Roberto Rossellini
Sidney Gottlieb
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0003


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/CBO9780511620225

    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.

  • 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.

    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.

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

    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.

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

    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.

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

    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.

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

    Comprehensive and authoritative biographical and critical study. In Italian.

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

    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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