Thursday, February 15, 2007


Rossellini's historical films often depict as their central progression or conflict a character engaging with others, discussing with them, outsmarting them, outdoing them, and up until the inevitable finitude, surviving amongst those who would not be your friends or benefactors. (This comprises one part of their Socratic content.) Louis XIV--it's a game about money. Blaise Pascal--a wit and orator in addition to a sharp mind, who takes delight in demolishing his peers' and elders' philosophical arguments. Augustine--a conception of God and the good, the paradox of sin and humility elevating one into leadership in troubling times. Earlier, Rossellini dealt with martyrs and strugglers, those for whom the utter extremes of love, compassion, political commitment were pathologized and punished--Ingrid Bergman as Joan of Arc or a bourgeois housewife who lives among the poor (Europa '51), or St. Francis, or the resistance in Open City. Insofar as these comments are construed as rough and deliberate generalizations, I think they hold true, and for me, for my still incomplete viewing of the Rossellini corpus, the sumptuous 1961 diptych of Viva l'Italia and Vanina Vanini can still operate, conveniently, as a kind of prism from which one reads one side of the body of work to the other--from punishment to power (within limits).

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A key motif of the rich Italian family: sexual frustration! The melodrama of the wounded Mason with Sandra Milo's title character in Vanina Vanini; Burt Lancaster complaining about how he's never seen his wife's navel in The Leopard (is this complaint in the Tomasi di Lampedusa? it's fantastic!); the entire string of tribulations in Divorce--Italian Style. It seems that for Italian cinema of the 1960s especially, 'fantasy' (sexual or otherwise) is the great mediating theme of all other themes. 8 1/2, Vittorio De Seta's Almost a Man (Un Uomo a metà, 1966), Pasolini's Teorema, Petri's Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and A Quiet Place in the Country, Bertolucci's Spider's Stratagem (I know I'm creeping into the early '70s at this point).

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I don't like the few Vittorio De Sica films I've seen. (The ones he's directed, I'm talking about. He strikes me as a really good actor.) But I've gotten to the point where I finally should give a chance to, say, Miracle in Milan and/or The Children Are Watching Us, etc. I'll have to get around to that eventually, and perhaps report back ... but I have said that about approximately 315 things on this blog, so that means there's a backlog of topics I was supposed to have addressed months ago ...


Anonymous said...

Wonderful observation Zach!

What you're saying is generally true and in some ways it makes sense too. I believe Rossellini was consciously or unconsciously trying to create role-models in his later films, heroes who almost internalized an idealized Rossellinian world view.

These people suffer/die so they ARE martyrs (Jesus, Socrate, etc.) but their thoughts are so impersonal that they almost don't suffer because they simply do not care.

This is not true for the heroes of "Paisa" or "Voyage to Italy".

Anonymous said...

One important exception I can think of, one that proves the rule, and again, it makes perfect sense:

"Francesco, guillare di dio"...

"Francesco" is still my favorite film experience ever, it opens the way to his later films... it is very very similar to those although it was made much earlier.

Both "Francesco" and "Il Messia" ends with clouds... are there others I can't think of?

ZC said...

Yoel--yeah, one could "read" Rossellini's entire oeuvre as a generally (of course not entirely) comprehensible linear progression on a single theme, that of suffering (suffering of characters, the 'philosophical substance' or value of suffering itself).

I don't know about clouds but I'll keep it in mind as I see or revisit more by RR.

I was thinking that RR is almost the only filmmaker I can think of for whom one can reasonably go into almost any film of his and tell oneself before the screening, "This could be the greatest film I've ever seen." Bresson is like that. I used to think of Tarkovsky like that (and I'm sure many others currently do). Any others?

Anonymous said...


Larry Jordan, John Ford or Brakhage could create such things but their works aren't as consistent.

Rossellini & Bresson are my favorite narrative filmmakers, good to know you picked those two. I feel I am not creating illusions for myself.

Hope you're doing well...

ZC said...

Breer could be a good choice--I've only seen about a dozen of his films (although most of those, twice). It's not even a matter of a posteriori consistency; in fact I don't think Rossellini is that remarkably consistent, at least no more consistent than Ford or Brakhage. It has to do with reasonable expectations of one's own comprehension of the filmmaker and one's comprehension of oneself, and which filmmakers had the aesthetic and historical fortune to inspire this expectation of potential greatness in me. So for me, Rossellini, Bresson, probably a few others. Mizoguchi is another very distinct possibility.

(As for Larry Jordan--I have never seen his films, and I wonder if there is not a cosmic conspiracy to keep me from seeing them. Each time they show at Anthology I am determined to make it to the program, and a few weekends ago, I was quite determined. But something that never happens to me actually happened then: I got on the wrong subway! Not simply the wrong line, but the wrong direction! I was heavily absorbed in my book, too heavily I guess. I didn't notice that I was back in Queens until it was too late to make it to the program. So Larry Jordan remains a tantalizing figure of the avant-garde for me still, and not yet anything more...)

And yes, things are well here Yoel--so when are you going to offer us a blog of your cinephilic & other experiences from Turkey?

Anonymous said...

funny that the gods conspire against you seeing larry jordan... and it is actually very fitting. his films evoke a sense of ununderstandable (but joyful) cosmos.

i actually started a blog but i seem to post very rarely (every few years).