The Cinémathèque de Toulouse is displaying a retrospective retracing the career of Roberto Rossellini, from Italian neorealism to his productions for television.
Films for the big screen and television, documentaries and meetings are on the program of the retrospective devoted to the Toulouse Cinémathèque to Roberto Rossellini, craftsman of Italian neorealism and inventor of modernity in cinema. Rossellini got to know the cinema very early on, since he was the son of a businessman who built the Corso, Rome’s first modern cinema. When his father died in 1932, he entered working life to provide for his family: noise maker, then screenwriter, he was then editor, then dubber, before making short films.
In Taranto to make a documentary on a warship, in 1940 he shot his first feature film, “The White Ship”, which won the Fascist Party Cup at the Venice Biennale. Then follow “Un pilota ritorna” (1941) and “L’Uomo della croce” (1943) which confirm his commitment alongside fascist propaganda. With the fall of the Mussolini regime, he signed “Rome, open city” in 1945, with unknown actors in a bloodless Rome for the setting. A worldwide success, the work won an award at the Cannes Film Festival and became the emblem of the Italian neorealist movement.
Rossellini continues with “Païsa”, a film with sketches showing the tragedy experienced by Italy during the war. The strength of the work lies in its documentary objectivity, its crude description of reality, without lyricism or pathos. His next film, “Germany, year zero”, is a scathing description of the decomposition of German society after the fall of Nazism, to go through the suicide of a parricidal child. Then, “L’Amore” says “the Human Voice”, adaptation of the play by Jean Cocteau interpreted by Anna Magnani, which we find in the second part, “the Miracle”, in the skin of a peasant woman believing met Saint Joseph.
At the same time, Ingrid Bergman requests it in a letter dated May 7, 1948: “Dear Mr. Rossellini, I saw your films “Rome open city” and “Païsa” and liked them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English well, who has not forgotten her German very much, who is not very understandable in French, and who, in Italian, knows only “ti amo”, I am ready to come and make a movie with you“. Rossellini then met the greatest Hollywood star of the time on the London set of “The Lovers of Capricorn”, byAlfred hitchcock. The actress immediately leaves Hollywood to follow him, and America is scandalized by the story of these lovers married each on their side.
They unite in 1950, before separating in 1957, Rossellini being blatantly unfaithful and not hesitating to regularly humiliate his wife with her statements in the press. Author of “The Year of the Volcanoes” (Flammarion), the writer and film critic François-Guillaume Lorrain recounts: “When Rossellini received the letter she had written, he didn’t know who Ingrid Bergman was, he hadn’t seen any of her films! It was impossible for them to work together. And this is precisely what will interest Rossellini: because it is impossible, he will do “Stromboli”“.(1)
François-Guillaume Lorrain continues: “We know the reactions of producer Howard Hughes when he saw the film: he was scandalized to see Ingrid Bergman so ugly! And it is true that she is poorly dressed in the film. But her character is modern: she plays a woman foreign to everything. A foreigner in Stromboli, a stranger to her husband, a stranger to her own image and even a stranger to the world. A door must open to save her, to reconcile her with life. This character sends Ingrid Bergman back to what she experiences, in a transcendent way. Rossellini understood that she is a prisoner who seeks the light. And that’s the role he makes her play in his film. He is inspired by his own reality. When, during the filming, she becomes pregnant with him, he makes that part of the story. He is closest to the truth. He films Stromboli like a documentary filmmaker and, by directing Ingrid Bergman, he almost makes a sort of documentary about her, and the love that is born between them. It’s very new and it will mark world cinema“.(1)
François-Guillaume Lorrain underlines that “Rossellini sent very quickly that she is not the woman for her. And she, for her part, understands little by little that she has entered a new prison. Rossellini, while giving him the freedom that goes with his working methods, locks him in his logic. He is a selfish man, who lives at his own pace, advances on his path without deviating from it. But the films they make together are public failures. Ingrid Bergman simply sinks into a cinema that is no longer seen“(1). From “Stromboli” (Photo) to “Jeanne au bûcher”, during this period they will have together shot five films, often intimate works of autobiographical inspiration, such as “Voyage en Italie” which is an X-ray of a couple in crisis, or “La Peur”, according to Stefan Zweig, who foreshadows their separation.
According to film historian Antoine de Baecque, “the genius of Rossellini is to have invented modern cinema by filming Ingrid Bergman very simple: he has at his disposal the biggest star in the world, in hands of huge contracts with Hollywood, but films in Italy, on the slopes of Stromboli, those of Vesuvius, in a mental asylum, waiting for nothing more to happen, nothing more than the world reflected on the face or in the gaze of his wife-actress. No more complicated intrigue, no more make-up, very few words, just a tuna hunt, crazy eyes, skeletons, the city of Naples: the “Bergman-films” by Rossellini (“Stromboli”, “Europe 51 “,” Travel to Italy “,” Fear “) reinvent cinema from the nothingness of the world“.(2)
Rossellini left for India in 1958, where he filmed “India: Matri Bhumi”, a documentary that takes a poetic look at this country. Then, he received the Golden Lion at the Venice Mostra for “General della Rovere”, with Vittorio De Sica, which marks a return to neorealism. Rossellini signs in the wake “Vanina Vanini”, according to Stendhal, a historical chronicle which describes papal Rome, but his films are from now on neglected by the public and forgotten by the critics.
After the failure of “Anima nera” in 1962, he turned to television where he pedagogically dealt with historical subjects (“The Seizure of Power by Louis XIV”, 1967; “Socrate”, 1970; “Blaise Pascal” , 1972; “René Descartes”, 1974), and is interested in the human condition through the themes of madness, wisdom, courage and fear. In 1976, he delivered a final feature film for the big screen, “The Messiah”, an evocation of the figure of Christ.
(1) telerama.fr (06/30/2014)
(2) Release (01/25/2006)
From October 12 to November 10, at the Toulouse Cinémathèque,