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 ...