Roberto Rossellini

[raw-suh-lee-nee, ros-uh-; It. raws-sel-lee-nee]

Roberto Rossellini (May 8 1906June 3 1977) was an Italian film director. Rossellini was one of the most important directors of Italian neorealist cinema, contributing films such as Roma città aperta to the movement.

Life and work

Born into a bourgeois family living in Rome, Roberto Rossellini lived in via Ludovisi, where Benito Mussolini had his first Roman hotel in 1922 when Fascism obtained power in Italy. Young Rossellini's fascination for "black shirts" has been repeatedly denied, though never completely.

Rossellini's father built the first Roman "cinema" (a theatre in which films could be shown), granting his son an unlimited free pass; the young Rossellini started frequenting the cinema at an early age. When his father died, he worked as a soundmaker for films, and for a certain time he experienced all the accessory jobs related to the creation of a film, gaining competence in each field. Rossellini had a brother, Renzo, who later scored many of his films.

On September 26, 1936, he married Marcella De Marchis, a costume designer. This was after a quickly annulled marriage to Assia Noris, a Russian actress who worked in Italian films. Marcella De Marchis and Roberto had two sons: Marco Romano (born July 3, 1937 and died prematurely in 1946), and Renzo (born August 24, 1941).

In 1937 he made his first documentary, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. After this essay, he was called to assist Goffredo Alessandrini in making Luciano Serra pilota, one of the most successful Italian films of the first half of the 20th century. In 1940 he was called to assist Francesco De Robertis on Uomini sul Fondo.

His close friendship with Vittorio Mussolini, son of Il Duce, has been interpreted as a possible reason for having been preferred to other apprentices.

Early career

Some authors describe the first part of his career as a sequence of trilogies.

His first feature film, La nave bianca (1942) was sponsored by the audiovisual propaganda centre of Navy Department and is the first work in Rossellini's so-called "Fascist Trilogy", together with Un pilota ritorna (1942) and Uomo dalla Croce (1943). To this period belongs his friendship and cooperation with Federico Fellini and Aldo Fabrizi.

When the Fascist regime ended in 1943, just two months after the liberation of Rome, Rossellini was already preparing Roma città aperta (1945) (with Fellini assisting on the script and Fabrizi playing the role of the priest), which he self-produced. Most of the money came from credits and loans, and film had to be found on the black market. This dramatic film was an immediate success. Rossellini had started now his so-called Neorealistic Trilogy, the second title of which was Paisà (1946), produced with non-professional actors, and the third Germania anno zero (Germany Year Zero, 1948), sponsored by a French producer and filmed in Berlin's French sector. In Berlin too, Rossellini preferred non-actors, but he was unable to find a face he found "interesting"; he placed his camera in the center of a town square, as he did for Paisà, but was surprised when nobody came to watch.

As he declared in an interview, "in order to really create the character that one has in mind, it is necessary for the director to engage in a battle with his actor which usually ends with submitting to the actor's wish. Since I do not have the desire to waste my energy in a battle like this, I only use professional actors occasionally". One of the reasons of success has been supposed to be the fact that Rossellini rewrote the scripts according to the non-professional actors' feelings and histories. Regional accent, dialect, and costumes were shown in the film how they were in real life.

Transition and later career

After his Neorealist Trilogy, Rossellini produced two films now classified as the "Transitional films": L'Amore (1948) (with Anna Magnani) and La macchina ammazzacattivi (1952), on the capability of cinema to portray reality and truth (with recalls of Commedia del Arte).

In 1948, Rossellini received a letter from a famous foreign actress proposing a collaboration:

Dear Mr. Rossellini,
I saw your films Open City and Paisan, and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who in Italian knows only "ti amo", I am ready to come and make a film with you.
Ingrid Bergman

By this famous letter begins one of the most popular love stories in cinema lore, with Bergman and Rossellini both at the peak of their popularity and influence. They started working together the following year in Stromboli terra di Dio (1950) (in the island of Stromboli, whose volcano quite conveniently erupted during filming), and, in 1952, Europa '51. In 1954 Viaggio in Italia completed the so-called "Ingrid's Trilogy".

This affair caused a great scandal in some countries (Bergman and Rossellini were both married to other people); the scandal intensified when the two started having children (one of whom was-to-be actress and model Isabella Rossellini). Isabella has a fraternal twin sister, Ingrid Isotta, and a brother, Roberto Ingmar.

In 1957, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister at the time, invited him to India to make the documentary India and put some life into the floundering Indian Films Division. Though married to Bergman, he had an affair with Sonali Das Gupta, a screenwriter, who was helping develop vignettes for the film.

Given the climate of the 1950s this led to a huge scandal in both Hollywood and India. Nehru had to ask Rossellini to leave. He married Sonali in 1957 and adopted her young son, Gil Rossellini (born October 23, 1956 - October 3, 2008). Rossellini and Sonali had a daughter together - Raffaella Rossellini (born 1958).

In 1971, Rice University in Houston, Texas, invited Rossellini to help establish a Media Center.

In 1977, Roberto Rossellini died of a heart attack, aged 71.


Rossellini's films after his early Neo-Realist films — particularly his films with Ingrid Bergman — were commercially unsuccessful. He was an acknowledged master in the eyes of the critics of Cahiers du Cinema in general and Andre Bazin, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard in particular. Truffaut noted in his 1963 essay, Roberto Rossellini Prefers Real Life (available in The Films In My Life) that Rossellini's influence in France particularly among the directors who would become part of the Nouvelle Vague was so great that he was in every sense, "the father of the French New Wave".

Martin Scorsese has also acknowledged Rossellini's seminal influence in his documentary, My Voyage to Italy (the title itself a take on Rossellini's Voyage to Italy). An important point to note is that out of Scorsese's selection of Italian films from a select group of directors (Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Vittorio DeSica, Michelangelo Antonioni) Rossellini's films form at least half of the films discussed and analyzed, highlighting Rossellini's monumental role in Italian and world cinema. The films covered include his Neo-Realist films to his films with Ingrid Bergman as well as The Flowers of St. Francis, a film about St. Francis of Assissi.

Scorsese notes in his documentary that in contrast to directors who often become more restrained and more conservative stylistically as their careers advance, Rossellini became more and more unconventional and was constantly experimenting with new styles and technical challenges. Scorsese particularly highlights the series of biographies Rossellini made in the 60's of historical figures and, although he does not discuss it in detail, singles out La Prise de Pouvoir par Louis XIV for praise.


  • Dafne (1936)
  • Prélude à l'aprés-midi d'un faune (1937)
  • La Fossa degli angeli
  • Luciano Serra pilota (1938)
  • La Vispa Teresa (1939)
  • Il Tacchino prepotente (1939)
  • Fantasia sottomarina (1940)
  • Il Ruscello di Ripasottile
  • Un Pilota ritorna (1942)
  • La nave bianca (1942)
  • L'Uomo dalla Croce (1943)
  • Roma città aperta (1945)
  • Desiderio (1946)
  • Paisà (1946)
  • L'Amore (segments: "Il Miracolo" and "Una voce umana") (1948)
  • Germania anno zero (1948)
  • L'Invasore (1949)
  • Stromboli terra di Dio (1950)
  • Francesco, giullare di Dio (1950)
  • Medico condotto (1952)
  • Les Sept péchés capitaux (segment: "Envie, L'Envy") (1952)
  • La macchina ammazzacattivi (1952)
  • Europa '51 (1952)
  • Siamo donne (segment: "Ingrid Bergman") (1953)
  • Amori di mezzo secolo (segment: "Napoli 1943") (1954)
  • Dov'è la libertà...? (1954)
  • Viaggio in Italia (1954)
  • La Paura (1954)
  • Giovanna d'Arco al rogo (1954)
  • India: Matri Bhumi (1959)
  • Il generale Della Rovere (1959)
  • Era Notte a Roma (1960)
  • Viva l'Italia! (1961)
  • Vanina Vanini (1961)
  • Uno sguardo dal ponte (1961)
  • Anima nera (1962)
  • Benito Mussolini (1962)
  • Ro.Go.Pa.G. (segment: "Illibatezza") (1963)
  • Les Carabiniers (1963)
  • Da Gerusalemme a Damasco (1970)
  • Rice University (1971)
  • Intervista a Salvador Allende: La forza e la ragione (1971)
  • Agostino d'Ippona (1972)
  • Concerto per Michelangelo (1974)
  • The World Population (1974)
  • Anno uno (1974)
  • Il messia (1976)
  • Beaubourg, centre d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou (1977)

Television credits

  • L'India vista da Rossellini (miniseries) (1959)
  • Torino nei cent'anni (1961)
  • L'Età del ferro (1964)
  • La Prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV (1966)
  • Idea di un'isola (1967)
  • Atti degli apostoli (miniseries) (1969)
  • "La Lotta dell'uomo per la sua sopravvenza" (series) (1970)
  • Socrate (1971)
  • Blaise Pascal (1972)
  • L'Età di Cosimo de Medici (1973)
  • Cartesius (1974)
  • Concerto per Michelangelo (1977)


External links

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