Roberto Rossellini
By: Franklin Bruno | Categories: HiLo Heroes

Though the name of ROBERTO ROSSELLINI (1906-77) is forever tied to “neo-realism,” the anti-illusionism of 1946’s celebrated Rome, Open City is relative, not absolute: much of the film was shot on constructed sets, the characterizations (especially the oily, pervy Nazis) are conventionally manipulative, and suspenseful parallel editing belies the filmmaker’s apprenticeship in Mussolini-era Italy’s mainstream film industry. Still, had Rossellini directed nothing after his post-war “Fascist trilogy” (the other two films of which, Paisan and Germany Year Zero, used “real” locations and non-actors in the De Sica manner), his achievement would be unassailable — and simpler to describe. Instead, Rossellini experimented with themes and techniques as restlessly as he did with wives (three) and mistresses (uncountable). His five 1950s films starring Ingrid Berman, whose extra-marital association with the director filled tabloids, anticipate Antonioni’s equation of landscape and psychology and reveal Rossellini’s religious leanings; in the same period, he knocked off Dov’è la libertà, a vehicle for beloved Italian comic Toto. By the 1960s, Rossellini had abandoned commercial cinema in favor of documentaries and historical films for Italian television, inventing a special zoom lens to speed up his already efficient shooting style. Film history has yet to explain how the man of whom arch-realist critic Andre Bazin wrote “he directs facts” came to spend his last productive years making didactic biopics about Western thought’s great rationalists: Socrates, Descartes, Pascal.

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Gary Snyder.

READ MORE about members of the Partisans Generation (1904-13).

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Franklin Bruno is the author of Elvis Costello's Armed Forces (Continuum, 33 1/3 series). His current band is The Human Hearts. Twitter: @humanfranklin.