Preferred Citation: Brunette, Peter. Roberto Rossellini. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1996 1996.





By the mid-fifties Rossellini's career had reached rock bottom. His films with Ingrid Bergman had not only failed at the box office, but had failed critically as well. True, the French were calling them the heralds of a new age of filmmaking, but the people with the money were not listening. As we saw in the last chapter, Bergman, too, was growing dissatisfied with being Rossellini's "property." Nor was he insensitive to their problems, as he explained many years later:

That was a very particular moment in my life, because I was married to a great, great actress. The point was that I risked too much and we were hated, I don't know why. Our films were not at all successful and we had big problems as we had three children. She was aware of the problems and she thought it would be wise to return to the industry just in order to save the material means of our life. I appreciated that thought very much, I believed it was wise. Unfortunately I was absolutely unwise myself and I did not want to be the husband of a great star. So very peacefully, very quietly and with a very full understanding and tremendous human compassion we decided to break. It was very hard, because we loved each other and we had three children. It was very, very painful.[1]

Now at his personal and professional nadir, Rossellini traveled to Africa, South America, and finally, in June of 1956, to Jamaica, where he was to make "The Sea Wife" with Richard Burton and Joan Collins. On his arrival in Jamaica, however, he discovered that the producers had changed the script he had written, presumably to avoid censorship problems; Rossellini immediately abandoned the project. (It was subsequently filmed by Bob McNaughton and released in 1957.)


Then the idea of going to India occurred to him. As he told reporters in Paris:

The producers don't want to give me any more work because what I'm saying doesn't interest them any more. That's why I accepted the offer made by the Indian cinema. I have been given carte blanche: in India I'll be able to study the atmosphere, analyze the major problems, make the most of the magic, fakirist and philosophic tradition, juxtaposing it with contemporary voices which are rising and becoming important. It will be, in short, the great Indian civilization, in all its grandness, its past and future which will take me by the hand and trace the subject which has not in any way been imposed on me. It will be difficult to be a neorealist in such a fabulous atmosphere, but I will certainly find many similarities with things I have already treated while developing Italian themes.[2]

It must be remembered that these remarks were made for the benefit of the press and seem intended to pander to their perhaps less-nuanced sense of things—in film journals, for example, Rossellini had been denying for years that he was a neorealist. Nevertheless, the remarks offer an interesting summary of his thoughts as he was about to depart for India. He had always been fascinated by foreign cultures, but by this time he was becoming especially interested in what was beginning to be called the third world. Here he could closely examine a single traditional culture, but, more importantly in view of his later overwhelming interest in science and modern technology, he could try to depict a vibrant test case, an actual battlefield between tradition and technology. He was also immensely drawn to Ghandi, who had once stayed in his home in Rome for a few days, and he told Victoria Schultz in Film Culture that "Ghandi was the only completely wise human being in our time of history."[3] He was also impressed by Nehru, Ghandi's successor, and spoke of him as "an extraordinary man" and "a saint." Jean Herman, Rossellini's young French assistant, makes it quite clear in the article he wrote for Cahiers du cinéma during the filming that the final product was to be a kind of social analysis of India, and certainly not merely the personal impressions of an auteur: "This will be the objective summing-up of ten years of freedom, of ten years of work, and of all the snares and traps that lie in wait for India today."[4]

Rossellini told a reporter for the New York Sunday News that this new film was to be "a takeoff on one of my earlier films, Paisan , which made money in the United States,"[5] and, in fact, the films are similar in their episodic structure and method of filmmaking. In India, as in postwar Italy, Rossellini went from one end of the country to the other, filming interesting sights, on the lookout for promising material. As Herman tells us, the director came to India with the rough outline of an idea in his head, but, as always, he allowed the specifics of the events, people, and places he encountered to determine the final product, making him add, delete, and change continuously.[6] Another aspect of his filmmaking practice here that is important for his later career is the fact that the project originally took the form of short documentary films for Italian and French television, from which he would then cull the best material for release as a commercial film. At this point, however, Rossellini still sees television princi-


pally as a means to an end, a kind of dry run (and source of necessary funds) for what he really wanted to do.

A further similarity with his earlier, pre-Bergman practice, is his insistence on the incorporation of "real life" into his film. As in films as chronologically far apart as La nave bianca and Francesco , he tells us proudly in the titles of India (the film is also widely known as India '58 ) that "the actors, all nonprofessional, were chosen in the very locations in which the action takes place." To some extent the result is again, paradoxically, to destabilize the codes of realism, preventing our acquiescence in the illusion and always keeping before us the sense that what we are seeing has been made . He also returned to his previously standard practice of observing someone he might choose to be in the film in order to memorize his "natural" actions, then, when he became stiff and artificial in front of the camera, Rossellini would "build him up again, teach him to act the way he was before you began teaching him to act."[7] He was so taken by the successful adaptation of his old methods to a new subject matter that he told the French journal Cinéma 59 that his future plans extended to South America, especially Brazil and Mexico. His remarks clearly foreshadow the great didactic project to come:

I will send teams of young people into each country, and they'll do an initial scouting. They will include a writer, a photographer, a sound man, and a filmmaker, who will be the head of the team. And this is how I'll proceed: I'll make an index for each country, and I'll study, along with my collaborators, their problems, food, agriculture, animal raising, languages, environment, etc. As you see, the task of a geographer and ethnographer. But it won't remain merely scientific, and will give each spectator the possibility of discovery. The art will only be the end point of this preliminary work. My job will be to make a work which will be a poetic synthesis for each country. . . .

I have tried to use this method abroad, but I could also use it in Europe. I've returned from India with a new way of looking at things. Wouldn't it be interesting to make ethnographic films on Paris or Rome? For example, a wedding ceremony. . . . Well, we need to rediscover the rites on which our society rests, with the fresh outlook of an explorer who is describing the customs of the so-called primitive tribes.[8]

The relation of this film to the rest of Rossellini's oeuvre is complex. Before it come the intensely introspective, expressionist fiction films made with Bergman, which seem to make only the slightest nod of acknowledgment toward external, surface reality. Immediately after it come the films of the only really blatant, self-consciously commercial period in his life, beginning with General della Rovere (1959) and ending with Anima nera and "Illibatezza" (both 1962). Yet Jean Herman is correct, I think, in regarding India as a "synthesis of the Rossellini oeuvre" that merges the exteriority of Paisan with the interiority of Voyage to Italy .[9] India itself, as Rossellini pointed out, is an amalgam of these two realities:

The Indian view of man seems to me to be quite perfect and rational. It's wrong to say that it is a mystical conception of life, and it's wrong to say that it isn't. The truth of the matter is this: in India, thought attempts to achieve


complete rationality, and so man is seen as he is, biologically and scientifically. Mysticism is also a part of man. In an emotive sense mysticism is perhaps the highest expression of man. . . . All Indian thought, which seems so mystical, is indeed mystical, but it's also profoundly rational. We ought to remember that the mathematical figure nought was invented in India, and the nought is both the most rational and the most metaphysical thing there is.[10]

In this remark Rossellini is clearly trying to reinscribe the fantasy (here, mysticism) of La macchina ammazzacattivi and Dov'è la libertà? into a wider, now more inclusive, realist aesthetic. Instead of being opposed, fantasy will now become a subset not of realism, exactly, but of rationalism. This latter term, which in some ways will help Rossellini elide the contradictions of realism, will soon come to be paramount in his remaining films.

Rossellini's understanding of India is accomplished in four individual episodes, each with its own main "character," "story," and location, the whole bounded on both ends by a factual frame that, especially at the beginning, provides the information necessary to put the individual episodes in an overall context. (In itself, the episodic, fragmented nature of the film implies that our understanding can be only partial and fragmented.) An interesting, active dynamic is immediately set up between the frame sequence, which is marked by fast cutting, zooms, and quick camera movements—obviously appropriate to its concentration on the city life in Bombay—and the inner sequences of life in the villages, which are generally much slower, comprised primarily of long takes, medium shots, pans, and minimal cutting. Appropriately, the physical movement which the film celebrates is registered in two different ways, depending on location. In the opening urban sequence it is conveyed through the artificial excitement of montage. Where movement exists in more natural settings, however—for example the flight of birds and the scurrying of monkeys through the forest—it is also highlighted, but significantly, by following it through pans.

Our own movement, from the frame to the interior stories and back again, is itself thematic. The voice-over tells us in a dramatically heightened, pulsating way at the very beginning of the film that "the first thing that astonishes you [in Bombay] is the crowd: tens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million people who come together like the incessant current of a river." Rossellini seems to be suggesting that, while first impressions are important, they must be seen through, in order to come to any understanding of the reality of the country. Yet, at the very end of the film, after the four internal, personalized stories have been told, we are put back in the same place, back into the middle of the city that we have not seen since the beginning, back into the fast cutting and zooming on the mass of swarming humanity, while the voice-over murmurs, as though mesmerized, one last phrase: "And still, the crowds, the immense crowds." We wonder if we, as outsiders, are forever condemned to be prisoners of our first impressions, which of course are always a product of our own culture, the culture we thought we left behind.

The dynamic between the framing sequence and the internal sequences also underlines the presence of the filmmaker in the whole process. In the opening sequence of India , a thoroughly un-Rossellinian style of editing assails the viewer: the cutting is even faster, and more self-conscious, than it was in the early La


nave bianca , so indebted to Eisenstein. While the voice-over bombards us with facts, the very presence of the massive statistics, despite their "objectivity," paradoxically seems to underline the fact that they were compiled and put together by someone , and thus from a particular point of view. At the same time, the visuals jump along quickly, often cutting in perfect unison with the verbal sound track (for example, in the exciting series of quick cuts that accompanies a string of rhyming verbs), further underlining the presence of a mediating mind. In the inner sequences, on the other hand, there are moments of quick cutting when the narrative demands it, but the sequences are primarily composed of long-take shots by an absolutely immobile camera. Here we see simple acts, like the ritual bath of a young engineer, or the attachment of a log to a chain, then the chain to an elephant—acts often long and drawn-out, unquestionably real—that are accomplished in a single take. (Also, of course, the lack of cutting is appropriate to the subject—in this case the elephants, the effect of whose ponderous, immense bobbing would be totally lost if the sequence were fragmented into a jazzy montage.) Though these inner sequences sometimes seem to offer themselves as privileged, direct glimpses of a "true" reality, the fictionalization of the episodes, as well as the return of the frame tale at the end, work against this.

The manner of presenting the inner tales and their information is complicated as well, for once they have been factually and contextually launched by a third-person voice-over, all, in one way or another, are told from a first-person point of view. Thus, each episode seems to be balanced between the desire to convey a certain amount of abstract information and the related, but different, desire to put this information in a human context. Though one might object that the individualizing of the portraits takes away from the typicality of the film as a documentary, it is clear that seeing things from a single individual's point of view, and, even more importantly, hearing "his" words (in Italian, of course) concerning that reality is what makes the film so memorable. The language used by each principal character is so utterly direct and spare that it carries the charge of a poem by William Carlos Williams. The old man of the third episode, for example, tells us in a stately, measured tone (with enormous pauses between most of the sentences and accompanied by a perfect correlation between the words and pictures):

I am eighty years old. I have always lived here but the forest is still rich, appealing and full of secrets. Especially at night when it resounds with the fantastic love songs of the tigers. The jungle is the temple in which their rites of love are celebrated. When I awake at the rays of the sun, there is an explosion of joy which surrounds me. My wife and I do not need to exchange many words. Our gestures and looks are enough to express our unchangeable, daily solidarity. It has been a long time, after all, that our mutual duties have been shared between us. What else is there to say?

The entire film, in other words, has been subjectivized, and on several levels at once. The filmmaker has, for his part, made an attempt at objectivity, at getting beyond the Western self: Claude Baurdet, a reporter for France Observateur , wrote at the time, "The director insisted that he needed an intermediary with a true understanding of the lives of the Indian peasants, in addition to cinematic


knowledge, in order to complete his project."[11] Rossellini also knew, however, and freely admitted, that everything that we see in the film, no matter how objectively obtained, has been filtered through his own (Western) consciousness. He told Godard in a famous interview for Arts (which Rossellini later claimed Godard had made up) not that the audience should learn the truth of India, but that they "should leave the theater with the same impression that I had while I was in India."[12] As a reporter for the New York Times pointed out, the film is successful precisely because Rossellini was so forthright about his own romantic notions concerning India, and he quotes the director to the effect that his ideas about the country were "gathered from books and newspapers . . . [and] are a rather stewy mixture of Ghandism, passive resistance, Jawaharlal Nehru, land distribution, the five-year plan, and spiritualism."[13] Even more important in this regard is the self-consciousness apparent in the title of the television series itself: in Italy, where it was broadcast between January and March 1958 in ten episodes of eighteen to twenty-nine minutes each, it was called "L'India vista da Rossellini" (India Seen by Rossellini), and in France, where it was shown between January and August of the following year, it was called "J'ai fait un beau voyage" ("I Had a Fine Trip"); in both cases, the mediation of the filmmaker's consciousness is clearly signaled.[14]

In important ways, then, this entire film stands opposed to the prevailing film fashion of the time, cinéma vérité. Rossellini felt, for one thing, that this kind of "direct cinema" could never achieve anything more than an undigested depiction of a not necessarily significant surface reality. He told the editors of Cahiers du cinéma in a 1963 interview that, unlike the cinéma vériste who forgets that the camera is only a tool, the real artist is one

with a precise position, his own artistic dream, a personal emotion, who gets an emotion from an object and tries to reproduce it at any cost, who tries, even if he has to deform the original object, to communicate to someone else perhaps less sensitive, less subtle, his own emotion. You can see how the author enters into all this, how his choice is determined, how his style becomes the essential element of expression.

He spoke of being upset, bored, and angry at the screening of his friend Jean Rouch's La Punition , and when asked how his own film differs from cinéma vérité, he responded: "There is an enormous difference. India is a choice. It's the attempt to be as honest as possible, but with a very precise judgment. Or, at least, if there's no judgment, with a very precise love . Not indifference, in any case. I can feel myself attracted by things, or repulsed by them. But I can never say: I'm not taking sides. It's impossible!"[15] As we shall see, Rossellini forgets the impossibility of not taking sides when his subjects become historical figures. Here in India , however, he understands the problem full well, and as Bruno Torri has explained, the film was clearly meant to be "a harmonious and life-giving account of the interaction between what was observed and the point of view of the observer."[16]

Another site of the film's self-awareness is its fascination with rhythm of all sorts, visual, verbal, musical, and thematic, which Rondolino attributes to Rossellini's recent experience with opera and especially with the oratorio Giovanna


d'Arco al rogo . A marvelous correlation exists between the visuals and the sound track (both its verbal and its musical components) that seems unique in Rossellini's films, and this rhythm provides the pleasure inherent in all forms of rhyming, repetition, and fulfilled expectations. The musical score itself stands out, but for once in a Rossellini film, not because it is annoying; composed almost solely of various forms of native Indian music, it seems utterly organic to what we are seeing. The score is augmented and complemented by sounds that come from the location—thus, the bells worn by the elephants insist on the immensity of these animals' presence in the sound track as well. (Herman tells us that the bells are put on the elephants because the animals are so quiet moving through the jungle that a human could easily be hurt without some advance warning.)

The voice-over commentary (anathema to cinéma vérité) also reminds us that the film was made from a particular point of view, but once the basic information is presented in the opening sequence, it becomes less obvious. Rossellini had, in fact, told the reporter for the New York Times in 1957 that the images were more important than understanding the dialogue, for "a healthy picture did not need more than a little bit of explanation here and there." However, those few who have been lucky enough to see the only copy available in the United States—an unsubtitled black-and-white print owned by the Pacific Film Archives at the University of California at Berkeley—know how important the Italian voice-over actually is to a basic comprehension of what is going on. It would be more accurate to say that, once the basics of the narrative line of each episode are grasped through the commentary, the images supply a resonance of their own that transcends the merely verbal.

India 's emphasis upon the image is accompanied by a greatly enhanced sense of pleasure in composition that we last saw in some of the stylized sequences of Fear . Throughout his life Rossellini maintained that he was completely uninterested in "pretty pictures," and that, in fact, he always avoided them, but the evidence of India , at least, belies this claim. Many images are obviously meant to be experienced aesthetically rather than merely as neutral carriers of information. The best example is perhaps the astounding shot of the young engineer who takes his ritual bath in the artificial lake created by the dam he has helped to construct; the confluence of ancient tradition and modern technology is obviously the point of the shot, but our pleasure goes beyond this realization. The camera holds absolutely steady for what seems like minutes, creating a frame that is split in two by an unbroken horizon line, above which lies the untroubled sky, below the water, below that the land. The young man walks out into the water after shedding part of his clothes, bathes, then walks back onto the shore, picking up his clothes and walking out of the shot before there is a cut or a single movement of the camera. Examples such as this could be multiplied many times.

Let us now turn to a closer examination of the individual episodes of the film. The old themes are still present: for example, the concern with problems of communication and the attendant respect for diverse cultures are in evidence right from the opening title which, in an attempt to avoid a reductive Western "orientalism," shows the name of the film (and the name of the country) in Ital-



The elephant-bathing sequence from India  (1958).

ian and English, in Urdu, and with the words, Matri Bhumi (Mother Earth), occupying the third position. Many conversations not absolutely crucial either narratively or informationally are presented at various times in three of the official native languages of India. The animal motif, so closely connected in his earlier films with the woman-as-victim theme, also reappears, but now it represents the relation between man and nature. In the terms of the perhaps too-neat formulation he gave Godard, "I wanted to show [in Fear ] what there is of the animal in intelligence, and in India '58 , I showed what there is of intelligence in the behavior of an animal."[17]

The first fully developed episode, which takes place in the jungle of Karapur and centers on the relation between the professional elephant drivers and their elephants, is a visual delight. We learn that "the elephant is India's bulldozer," and chuckle to see the elephants knock trees down and then carry them away. The narration switches to the first-person point of view of one of the drivers, who tells us how much elephants have to be fed, and, in a superb sequence, we witness the care that has to be taken every day to give the elephants their baths when it becomes too hot to work any longer. The elephants loll and roll over in the water, as languorous as immense cats. When a company of puppet players arrives in the village, the young man becomes interested in the owner's daughter, and from this moment on, the elephants (who are also "falling in


love") and the two young people are overtly compared in order to point up the harmony between man and nature that Rossellini finds in India. The young man goes to the schoolteacher for a formal letter to his father, asking him to speak to the girl's father in order to arrange their marriage. This scene and the one following (of the schoolteacher acting as mediator between the two fathers) are recorded entirely in the Indian language of the region, with no specific explanation provided in Italian. By the end of the episode, the young man tells us that the pregnant elephant must go away from the male halfway through her pregnancy, in the company of another female elephant who will minister to her needs, and because the demands of his work do not allow him to accompany his pregnant wife to her mother's, she, too, must be accompanied by another female.

The second episode, like the rest, begins with specific information that later will be put in more personal, individualized terms. Here the emphasis is on water. We start at the Himalayas, India's principal source of water, and learn about reincarnation, the sacredness of the Ganges, and the holy city of Benares along the way. The central focus of the episode, however, is the immense dam built at Hirakud, largely by grueling human labor. Our protagonist is a young engineer who has been working on the dam for seven years but who must now leave because his job is finished. He and his wife, we learn later, were originally refugees from East Bengal, due to the division of Pakistan, and since their child was born at Hirakud, they have come to look upon it as home. The husband seems sad but reconciled to the prospect of moving, but the wife complains throughout, refusing to understand, and at one point after a farewell party, an argument breaks out that ends with him pushing her violently to the floor.

The emphasis throughout is on the engineer's consciousness, and it is clear that this episode of the film, though visually magnificent, depends heavily on its verbal component to be understood. The young man makes one more trip back to the dam, where thousands upon thousands of unskilled workers—mostly women—carry rocks and dirt atop their heads, basket by basket, in their seemingly Sisyphean task. We learn from the engineer's voice-over narration that some 435,000 people work at the job site, and 175 died building the dam. But, "Before with the floods, if we had to build a monument to the dead, it would have taken a list as long as the dam itself to inscribe the names of all of them."

The chief theme of this sequence is the advent of technology into a traditional culture. Rossellini clearly believes in technology—and this belief will increase dramatically as the years go by—but at this point he is still concerned about its misuse. As Jean Herman tells us at the end of his article:

Rossellini came here with his head stuffed with questions. He was afraid of the dangers represented by the [West's] too-clean-hygiene, the button-you-press-which-solves-all-your-problems, the books-on-how-to-teach-five-year-olds-in-five-days, the pills-which-save-you-from-eating.[18]

The director is clearly fascinated by the conflict raging in the mind of this young engineer between the desirability of modern technology and the demands of the traditional culture. In one powerful sequence the man is wandering amid the giant spools of electric cable and immense electrical transformers, and, in a voice made to reverberate like an echo chamber, he thinks: "Electricity. Magic.



The old man and his wife eat breakfast in a scene from  India .

Everything can be explained. All it takes is to think. There is no magic. There are no more miracles. Knowledge. Mystery. No more mystery. Knowledge. Hirakud." In the next sequence, however, we are pulled in the opposite direction as he observes a ritual burning of a body on a funeral pyre and thinks aloud that, while death is difficult for those who have been left behind, it must be very good to be able to dissolve completely into nature. A satisfying synthesis is achieved in the shot described earlier, when the young man takes his ritual bath in the artificial lake that has been created by the dam. The family leaves the next day with the cart carrying the few pieces of their furniture; stretched out behind them is the overwhelming presence of the dam. The episode ends with a resonant, self-consciously composed shot of a file of workers moving off to the right, who are rhymed visually by different-colored stones in the curb in front of them; the camera pans right, away from the couple, to "discover" the workers, then remains immobile as they file out of the frame, one by one.

In the third episode we move to the land where the rice grows. Our protagonist here is an old man who we see in his daily rituals: making obeisance to the sun when he rises, having breakfast with his wife, giving advice to his sons. We see vaguely "documentary" material that serves to advance the narrative not a whit, like a woman breast-feeding her infant, and the old man's wife packing


the sides of their hut with mud, reminiscent of similarly "aimless" sequences as far back as La nave bianca . The old man tells us, in a soft-spoken, simple prose that is thoroughly convincing:

The only thing that is left in me is the need for contemplation and for that there is only one place on earth that can satisfy me: the jungle. I love my cows. They are beautiful and strong animals. I always bring them with me. . . .

When I am alone in the jungle I feel strongly the presence of nature and it seems to me that little by little I become part of it.

He says that, even though he knows that the tiger he hears will not hurt him, still he is afraid.

Then one day his jungle peace is destroyed by the presence of three trucks full of men looking for iron; the old man has often heard of this substance, but believes it is a myth. And here Rossellini shows us the less pleasing side of technology. The noise of the motors causes all the animals to become upset (monkeys and vultures are juxtaposed in the editing in a clear foreshadowing of the next episode); in the commotion, the tiger is attacked by the porcupine, and, as the old man knows too well, only a wounded tiger is ever dangerous. The tiger finally does attack a man, as the old man feared; the cycle is complete when the prospectors decide to go on a tiger hunt for this dangerous animal. The old man asks, "Why kill? Isn't the world big enough for everybody?" In the last sequence of the episode, he sets a fire to convince the tiger to seek refuge in another part of the jungle, away from the hunters.

In the final segment Rossellini moves completely into the world of the animals by making one his protagonist. Again, a problem is posed and a piece of information supplied; this time it is the inverse of the water of the second episode—the devastating effects of drought. The camera tilts down from the "sky of steel" to reveal a man and his trained female monkey wandering through the parched desert. The man collapses and, as he slowly dies, the monkey tries vainly to protect him from the vultures that are gathering to attack. The sequence becomes a veritable feast of camera "trickery," with rhythmic pans, faked shadows, and suggestive editing all used to exacerbate the sense of danger. The sequence continues much longer than one might normally expect of a wordless event like this, and the effect is to make us even more aware of the elaborate rhythmic choreography of camera, physical shapes, light and shadow. In a chilling image, vultures bounce along the ground, their enormously long wings fully outstretched, but seemingly more in order to frighten than to propel them into the air. The monkey finally gives up her quixotic act of protecting her dead master and breaks loose from the chain that holds her, as the editing becomes faster and faster and the vultures close in—again, all through the suggestivity of the cutting rather than through any actual proximity between the monkey's master and the vultures about to attack.

This sequence is followed by a quick cut to the fair toward which the man had been traveling when he collapsed. Characteristically, we are not told that this cut signifies the continuation of the monkey's narrative; we do not see her or hear of her, in fact, until the location and the environment of the fair have been fully placed before us. Only after many shots of the various performers


does the monkey come into the frame, and we are left with the impression, as always, that the individual story is not important in itself, but only as a vehicle for presenting whatever reality has been found and/or constructed in the encounter between the filmmaker and the country. Then the film cuts suddenly to furious cart-and-oxen races, which apparently are part of the fair but, again, are narratively unmotivated and remain unexplained by the laconic voice-over.

The monkey has come to the fair out of training or instinct and, lacking a master, pitifully goes through her paces, doing what "she is used to doing, picking up coins that she does not understand the use of." She is unable to provide for herself because she has lost her connection with nature, and, at the same time, wild monkeys threaten her because she is deeply tainted with the smell of man. We see unhappy shots of her sleeping on the temple steps like a bum, forlorn and hungry, while her more natural relatives send up a howl at her presence. Finally, she is rescued by a new owner, and the last image we see of her is in her "new life" as a performer on a miniature trapeze. The voice-over gives only the barest information and is painfully reticent and noncommittal about how we are to read this image of her swinging back and forth above the awed crowd. Again characteristically, Rossellini refuses to move to a simplistic closure regarding this final example of the relationship between man and animal. Most viewers will find the image degrading, I think, and while we may have been intended to take this training as one more example of the wonder of man's skills, the monkey seems to represent a message counter to that which has gone before. Man and animal, and by extension all of nature, are in close harmony in India, but the two realms are distinct, finally, and must remain so. The monkey is awkwardly suspended between the world of men and the world of animals, and not comfortable or even able to take care of herself in either one. The monkey's split between nature and culture is, however, emblematic of the human condition, Rossellini seems to imply, especially in terms of advancing technology. In fact, in the 1959 Cahiers du cinéma interview he said, cryptically, that the monkey's division is "exactly the story of all of us. It's the battle that we're engaged in." The episode ends immediately after this shot, with a close-up on the human faces that file past the camera on their way out of the small circus tent. We then go back suddenly to the final short piece of the framing sequence, which completes the decisive return to human beings. For Rossellini the humanist, it is good that men and animals can be in such a harmonious relationship, finally, because it is good for men.

The film was first presented at the 1959 Cannes festival, out of competition, and was well received; its commercial release in Italy did not come until June 1960, however, and by April 1961, the film had grossed only 15 million lire—another box-office failure. This time, at least, the general critical reaction was favorable. The French appreciated the film, of course, especially Godard:

India goes against all standard cinema: the image is only the complement of the idea which provokes it. India is a film of an absolute logic, more socratic than Socrates. Each image is beautiful, not because it is beautiful in itself, like a shot from Que Viva Mexico , but because it's the splendor of the true, and because Rossellini takes off from the truth. He has already departed from the place most others won't even reach for another twenty years. India gathers


together the entire world cinema, like the theories of Reimann and Planck gather up geometry and classical physics. In a forthcoming issue, I will show why India is the creation of the world.[19]

Even Rossellini's most bitter Italian critics, those who had pilloried him during the Bergman era, welcomed him back to the fold, anxious to "forgive" him. In Mida's words, "with a wipe of the sponge, he has wiped out all the earlier mistakes, all the uncertainties of an obvious decadence."[20] More recent critics, like Baldelli, however, have mounted a serious attack:

The eye isn't enough when an exact politico-cultural preparation and a complete immersion in the circumstances are lacking. Rossellini shortens and at the same time confuses the historical distances from the moment he begins to see India as a gigantic example of his usual themes: a boundless South crawling with "paisans" and the fabulous presence of antique temples, a remote past which is always equal to itself, a perpetual seat of equilibrium between nature and history.

He complains that Rossellini shows the irresistible, harmonious onward march of technology that in actuality proceeds at the expense of the masses. He faults Rossellini's devotion to the passive nonviolence of Gandhism, the whole film becoming, for Baldelli, little more than a transference of the ideals of Saint Francis to the Indian masses. Finally, he objects to the film's neglect of topics like starvation, the caste system, religious superstition, and the inability of the masses to read.[21]

Of course, Baldelli is right. Seeing the film, however, is a profound and moving experience that perhaps covers up, but also redeems all its shortcomings at the same time. Of the films of Rossellini's that are not available for public viewing, this is perhaps the greatest loss, not only for the proper understanding of Rossellini's career, but for the proper understanding of the potential of cinema itself. Andrew Sarris has called it "one of the prodigious achievements of this century,"[22] and he is only overstating by a little.

Before concluding this chapter, it may be useful to describe in more detail the major shift that was taking place in Rossellini's thinking at the time, which is signaled by the new emphases, especially on technology, apparent in India . The principal text will be his interview with Fereydoun Hoveyda and Jacques Rivette published in the April 1959 issue of Cahiers du cinéma . It is here that the director first spells out his increasing interest in the powers of human reason, an interest that will remain submerged in the more blatantly commercial films that immediately follow, but will soon after become nearly obsessive.

In the interview he professes first of all to be amazed that modern abstract art could have become the "official art," given that it is the least intelligible. The reason for this, he believes, is that man is being forgotten, that he is becoming just a cog in a gigantic wheel. This situation must be seen in historical terms, however, as part of an eternal alternation between long periods of slavery and all too brief moments of freedom. But today things are worse because now we are held by a "slavery of ideas." The cinema, television, radio, through their sensationalism, all bear part of the responsibility for this sorry state of


affairs. Instead of pandering to the worst in man, we must try to understand him and his world. Most of all, we must avoid the smiling, false optimism that leads us to alcohol, tranquilizers, and the psychiatrist to avoid every possible anxiety in the world.

Rossellini says, furthermore, that we must begin to reestablish the rapport among various nationalities that existed immediately after World War II, and the cinema has a significant role to play in this attempt, as does the newer medium of television. He speaks approvingly of his own television series on India, for "there I could not only show the image, but speak and explain certain things." At this point in his career, however, it is still the cinema that is paramount, and, in light of his later didactic films, for the somewhat surprising reason that it can be more emotional, finally, than the more factual material prepared for television: "Perhaps my television broadcasts will help people to understand my film. The film is less technical, less documentary, less explanatory, but because it tries to penetrate the country through the emotions rather than statistics, it allows us to penetrate it better. That's what I think is important and what I want to do in the future."[23]

Rossellini's concerns have not yet been broadened, or made more subtle, and they are obviously marked by their fifties' origin. Yet, here in embryo, we can detect the founding beliefs of the final fifteen years of his cinematic practice. In 1959, though, they were little more than beliefs. Ironically, Rossellini will next, for virtually the first time in his career, begin to make cinema the old-fashioned, conventional way—though not, certainly, what he had begun calling the cinema of "holdups and sex." His goal of freeing himself forever from the demands of the commercial cinema of sensation will finally be fulfilled, but only after five more years of struggle.


General della Rovere

As we have seen, Rossellini's own voyage to India had an enormous impact on his artistic sensibility and his view of what the cinema had to become. However, India was a box-office failure as well, and, in fact, represented one of the lowest financial points of his career. His situation in 1958 was thus an awkward one: he had yet to find the alternative financing of television that he would successfully exploit for the last fifteen years of his life, yet he no longer had the lure of Ingrid Bergman to insure a steady stream of prospective investors, ever hopeful for a hit.

There had always been offers to do films that were more overtly "commercial," though little documentation exists to tell us just what these projects were. The actor Vittorio Caprioli recounts how one night he and the producer Morris Ergas were having dinner with Rossellini and Sergio Amidei when Caprioli mentioned that Diego Fabbri had just finished writing La bugiarda for him and that Ergas should produce it. The eager Rossellini immediately suggested that he direct the picture, but Ergas said no. Amidei then mentioned a sketch by Indro Montanelli he had recently seen in the Milanese newspaper Corriere della Sera; Ergas and Rossellini expressed interest, and the film was on its way.[1]

Montanelli's sketch, followed closely in the film, tells the story of a petty thief and gambler who is forced by the Germans to masquerade as General della Rovere, an important Italian military leader and Resistance figure who has been secretly killed by the Germans while attempting a clandestine landing. Bertone, the gambler, is put in prison in order to discover the identity of the leader of the Resistance, for while the Germans know that they have him in the same jail, they do not know which prisoner he is. Bertone becomes so absorbed by the


role he is playing that at the end of the film he willingly goes before the firing squad with his "fellow" partisans rather than reveal the identity of their leader.

The screenplay was written principally by Amidei, Diego Fabbri, and Montanelli,[2] but it is unclear how closely it was followed by Rossellini. Just after the film was completed, the director was claiming rather grandly:

I don't need traditional methods to make a film. For me, the inspiration comes on the set. My work on the scenario of General della Rovere consisted in tracing out the general lines of my story and of imagining, very close up, the personality of my character. I have no preconceived notions before I begin filming, and it's the first shot of a film which determines the entire work. It is then that I really feel the rhythm that I must give it, which leads me to imagine the thousand things which are the essence of my film. I want to arrive at the film location with a new feeling.[3]

Five years later he bluntly insisted, that "The only thing that really existed of the film was the screenplay which I read quickly and then put aside during the shooting. Many people, including the producer, have taken credit for the organization of that film, but this is the real story."[4]

It is ironic that Rossellini should have been so intent on claiming authorship of a film that he so obviously disliked, both during production and later. It was not the last film he was to make out of sheer necessity, but it was the first. Even the rather forced humor of the Totò vehicle Dov'è la libertà? had been closer to his heart. Years later, in fact, he named General della Rovere as one of the two films (the other being Anima nera ) that he was actually ashamed of having made, because "it's an artificially constructed film, a professional film, and I never make professional films, rather what you might call experimental films."[5] In another interview conducted at the same time, he explained why he undertook the project in the first place, relating his motives to the new discoveries he had made about himself in India:

I had decided to change [my methods of filmmaking] completely. And so I said to myself: "In order to change and to put my new ideas into operation, I'll need at least six months, or a year," and so I tried to find something by which I could save my life. Well, there were a lot of people who were very happy that I had finally given in, that I had obeyed, that I was following the rules (though I wasn't). Instead, it took some five or six years to get started in a serious way, and that was a bad surprise.[6]

Even during he shooting he was uneasy. He told the interviewer for Arts magazine, "I would reproach my film for being too well constructed, for relying on the continuing development of the story." His enormous ambivalence shows, as he continues: "I'm afraid that my film is going to be a big success and, in spite of everything, I hope it will be. Was it perhaps a tactical error for me to have made it? I don't really know yet, because I'm still too much in it. I have been trying to imagine the pros and the cons, the dangers for the continuation of my research and the possibilities that it holds out to me. Let's wait and see.[7]

It is clear now that General della Rovere was not his kind of film, despite the superficial similarities to past successes that made some critics ecstatic that Rossellini had seen the light. Even Massimo Mida, who heralded the film as opening


up a renaissance in Italian cinema through its return to the past, and who saw in it the end of Rossellini's period of "involution," nevertheless realized that the director was unenthusiastic and that the final product was little more than a tired rehash of his earlier triumphs. Mida admits that General della Rovere "was not the film that Rossellini would have wanted to direct and was not, at that moment, his ideal film," and quotes instead a significant array of "projects closer to his heart": Brasilia, The Dialogues of Plato, The Death of Socrates, Tales From Merovingian Times, Bread in the World.[8] These titles indicate clearly where Rossellini wanted to be, and where, after a few more years of frustration, he would be.

Of all his films, it is only General della Rovere that can and must be judged by the conventional standards of the "well-made" film.[9] It is immediately likable in a way that many of his other films are not, but it contains barely a hint of the depth or resonance of a film like Voyage to Italy , say, and ultimately registers as little more than a bravura piece of acting. Rossellini had been able to prevent Bergman from "acting" through the sheer force of his will over her, but De Sica, an immensely successful star by this point (and as a director perhaps even more prestigious than Rossellini), could not be so easily restrained. Nor is it certain that Rossellini even tried to control him; having already accepted the idea and the script, he perhaps may have given in on this point as well. For Rossellini, "saving his life" took the form of reassuring producers that he could make a conventional film if he wanted to, making it clear in the process that the other films, however "poorly made" they seem on the surface, were, for better or worse, like that on purpose. In fact, General della Rovere contains more than a few excellent passages of conventional filmmaking that can stand with anything produced by the most "professional" of Hollywood directors.

One very significant aspect of the film is its return to the war and the Resistance, the scene of Rossellini's earlier victories. Strangely enough, it was one of the first Italian films to go back to that period, and in the wake of its financial success, a host of others quickly followed. At the time, Rossellini told a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune that he had returned to this subject because he felt "that it is necessary to re-introduce the great feelings that moved men when they were confronted face to face with final decisions."[10] In addition, there was now a whole new generation who needed to have these anti-Fascist values inculcated in them, young people who had had no direct experience of fascism. Unfortunately, these values have not been reinvigorated in the film and seem less than fresh. Rossellini's earlier theme of coralità reappears, but when mixed with his more recent emphasis on the individual, the result is a dynamic of leader and followers, which is closer than ever to the superficial psychologizing of the standard Hollywood product.

If General della Rovere marks a return to the content of the earlier films, in formal terms it is a return to the dramatic and narrative conventionality of Open City , not to the dedramatized distanciation of Paisan . Thus, the film's plot, narrative thrust, and suspense have all been greatly intensified. In this film, things definitely happen . Lots of things. Nor are the dramatic moments undercut, as usual in Rossellini's films, but are lingered upon and played for all


they are worth. Similarly, our relationship with the protagonist is now completely changed, and Rossellini's typical distance separating the spectator from the character, a distance that seemed to foster a morally preferable sympathy rather than a manipulative and emotionally constricting identification, now disappears. Some contemporary critics praised the increased psychological subtlety of the film's characters, and it is true that we get more time to come to "know them as people." The method of accomplishing this, however, is that of the banal film that relies on the transparent, "telling" detail to "reveal" characters, as when the German officer straightens his tie before receiving della Rovere's real wife at the prison. The "richness" of the psychological portraits is, in fact, based on an amassing of clichés. Other critics applauded the director's newfound sense of humor, but, again, it is a humor that is totally predictable and painlessly digestible, accompanied by little wit and less irony.

Rossellini went even further to make his new backers happy. According to Variety , the entire film was shot in thirty-one days for a mere $300,000.[11] Rossellini later said that, even though he had been given twelve weeks for the shooting, he began July 3 and took the finished, edited film to the Venice film festival on August 24![12] And the reward for his capitulation? General della Rovere was awarded the Golden Lion (along with Mario Monicelli's La grande guerra ) at the festival, and in its initial release grossed over 650 million lire, more than forty times the box-office receipts of Voyage to Italy .

Professional, "accomplished," a well-made, if rather straightforward, adventure story of the Resistance. But is it? As one might expect from a film by Rossellini, all is not what it appears on the surface: "They thought I had given in, that I had obeyed, that I had followed the rules (which I hadn't.)" In spite of the work's apparent seamlessness and conventionality, in other words, there remain recalcitrant elements that refuse to fit. These elements have proven particularly frustrating for critics bent on finding organic unity, especially since they occur in a work that seems so utterly direct and obvious. First, there is the film's blatant artificiality, especially in terms of its lighting and its sets. The lighting, for example, is cast in the stylized film noir mode of a movie like Fear , rather than the serviceable, "natural" flatness of Open City . Furthermore, Rossellini is now shooting in a studio, and the familiar rubble has been manufactured by his crew. The sets are not obviously artificial, of course; they are, simply, just not real. Of a piece with the slickness of the rest of the production, they are in fact "well done," and one critic even complimented Rossellini on doing a better job at capturing the "true" Milan on a Roman studio set than any other director had been able to do in the real city.

Again, there is a strange dynamic at work. For, intercut within the scenes shot in the studio (often by means of a wipe, an ostensibly more "artificial" means of transition that is used much more frequently in this film than in his previous films), we are shown real footage, or at least "real" in the sense of taking place in a real, preexistent location: marching soldiers, bombing raids, the landing of the true General della Rovere via a submarine and a raft (a sequence shot by the director's son, Renzo), and the truck on the road. Events depicted in this "real" footage happen with the quickness that in Paisan added powerfully to the sense of seeing a real event happen before our eyes. There are



A "well-made film": Vittorio De Sica peers out from his
jail cell in General della Rovere  (1959).

also moments early in the film where presumably "real" people, that is, non-actors seemingly unaware of the camera's presence, are standing around watching wrecking crews knock down actual bombed-out buildings, in a De Chirico—like reprise of early scenes from Germany, Year Zero . All of this contrasts continuously with the blatant unreality (because so tidy and managed ) of the studio locations, especially the unconvincing bombing raid on the prison.[13] The result, once more, is an extension of that revelatory dialectic, in muted form, that we saw at work earlier between the conventions of cinematic realism and the de-


piction of reality itself. Here, however, the film's code of realism is not threatened or invigorated by any perception of the potentially dangerous incursion of this reality. Hence, the clash of the footage shot on the set and those few bits shot on location is more reminiscent of the comic self-reflexivity of La macchina ammazzacattivi than of the exciting, unstable mixtures of Paisan . At the same time, the dominance of the code of realism in this film affirms the utter impossibility of a true return to the earlier films, no matter how devoutly wished by the director's supporters, at least in anything other than an ironic or self-aware mode.[14]

Yet even this minor disjuncture between realism and reality operates thematically in General della Rovere . One scene, for example, when a group of partisans still at liberty meets specifically to discuss whether or not the man in prison is the true della Rovere, is shot using rear projection, with actual snowy streets and a bombed-out church serving as background to their meeting. Since the rear projection is rather unsteady, however, the artificiality of the scene is foregrounded, thus raising the same question of appearance and reality that is at the center of the partisans' discussion. Furthermore, what General della Rovere openly problematizes is the nature of the self and the reality of identity, and thus serves in an indirect way to extend patterns we have seen operating in Una voce umana and the "Ingrid Bergman" segment of Siamo donne . Just as Magnani's status as actress was foregrounded in Una voce umana , so, too, what we are not allowed to forget here is Vittorio De Sica as actor, playing a role. De Sica, the well-known actor and director, is playing a down-on-his-luck con man named Bertone. Bertone, for increased credibility with the families of the interned men he is trying to help (while helping himself financially) masquerades as a certain Colonel Grimaldi. When he is arrested by the Nazis and made to work for them (significantly, the Nazis want him to discover the identity of a Resistance leader), De Sica/Bertone/Grimaldi steps into his greatest role, that of General della Rovere, which he assumes so completely that he dies. Again, the abîme of representation and the self opens up at our feet as the continuity and certainty of self-identity seem to be threatened. Which is the real man?[15]

These complications reach their peak in the final scene. It would seem that the one thing that can ground this endless play of selves, of appearance and reality, is death. But, in fact, death does not resolve or explain the ongoing displacement, but only halts it, in the most purely functional and banal manner. At the end we are still utterly in the dark concerning Bertone's motives. Some critics have seen his decision to die with the partisans as a decision to end his own rhetoric and the falsity that has defined him since the beginning. It seems equally plausible, however, to view his death as the apotheosis of self-deluding rhetoric, his final histrionic moment, since in terms of the logic of the narrative, he could have told the German officer that he had not been able to discover the true identify of the sought-after leader of the Resistance.

Perhaps most annoyingly to recent Italian commentators, the film is politically ambiguous as well. As in Open City , the Italian Fascists are barely portrayed at all; they parade by in the first few seconds of the film singing their marching song "Camice nere," but this seems to serve more as a historical


marker than anything else. Thus, Italians are again seen only as victims, as when Bertone first encounters the German officer and struggles to find the most ingratiating answers to his questions, rather than the perpetrators they also were. In addition, while generally pleased that Rossellini has softened or even subverted Montanelli's consistent glorification of militaristic and nationalistic values (for example, when Rossellini has Bertone's final courageous resolution spring from the resolve of the others rather than himself), many leftist critics have felt that too many traces of these values remain in the dramatic structure of the film. And it is difficult to disagree. For one thing, the politically progressive figures in the film are portrayed as weak, in need of a strong leader to calm them, like children, during the bombing attacks. Clearly from an aristocratic class, della Rovere is "born to lead," and when he shouts, "Long live Italy!" and "Long live the king!" he unequivocally aligns himself with the military caste. Bertone's change of heart, furthermore, is clearly an ahistorical moral decision rather than one based on a greater understanding of the ideas and ideals of the Resistance, and is related to a certain conflation of religion and the fatherland espoused by Montanelli and his followers. Thus, for Guido Aristarco, perhaps the foremost Communist film theorist in Italy, the film fails because it does not put Bertone's change of heart in a sociohistorical context: if Bertone's idea of the patria were examined critically, Aristarco insists, we might have a better idea why there was such a rush to reestablish the traditional pre-Fascist state after the war.[16] Bertone says he does it out of "duty," but duty is a nonspecific value that can be felt as much by a Fascist as by an anti-Fascist. The ultimate Marxist complaint, then, is that the Fascist past is seen by modern audiences as merely "a moment of human wickedness," in Lino Miccichè's phrase, that all right-thinking men joined to combat: "A prisoner of his Montanellian character, the director made of him a symbol of an anti-Fascist vision which oscillated continually between a vague humanism of the feelings and a cunning and nebulous ethic of 'duty,' almost as if the struggle against fascism had been a question of abstract moral debate rather than a concrete political choice."[17]

This is closely related to the complaint that a new generation of Marxist critics has lodged, not unconvincingly, against Open City and Paisan . Unfortunately, it seems to be the only real link between General della Rovere and the successes of the past, now fifteen years distant.


Era Notte a Roma

Era notte a Roma (It Was Night in Rome) has most often been seen as a companion piece to General della Rovere since it, too, looks back to the war years and the Resistance for its subject matter. The films, in fact, do share common themes, attitudes, and formal techniques, but are finally quite different than their chronological proximity would suggest.

Era notte a Roma tells the story of three escaped Allied prisoners—a British captain, an American lieutenant, and a Russian sergeant—who are reluctantly hidden by Esperia, a beautiful black marketeer, while they are in Nazi-occupied Rome seeking to rejoin their lines. (The period is thus the same months of severe deprivation portrayed in Open City , but now seen through the eyes of three outsiders.) The Fascist Tarcisio, a crippled, "spoiled" priest, spies for the Germans; when he tracks down the Allied soldiers' hideout in Esperia's attic, the Russian sergeant and Esperia's boyfriend Renato, a working-class Roman Communist, are killed. Pemberton, the British officer, is subsequently hidden by an aristocratic Roman family and later in a monastery with other escaped Allied prisoners disguised as priests. While trying to help Esperia, he is forced to kill Tarcisio, who wants Esperia to go north with him when the Germans abandon Rome. After their night of suffering ends with the coming of dawn and the American liberation of the city, Pemberton and Esperia are, at the end of the film, too psychologically exhausted and overwhelmed by events to celebrate.[1]

Era notte a Roma is a curious film, not easily domesticated and understood, because it straddles an aesthetic fence. On the one hand, the film is clearly related to the conventional "good" filmmaking that we saw in full operation in



The Resistance revisited: The Russian sergeant (Serge Bondarchuk), the British major
(Leo Genn), the Italian Communist (Renato Salvatori), and the black marketeer Esperia
(Giovanna Ralli) in  Era notte a Roma  (1960).

General della Rovere . It has a strong plot, dramatic emotion is heightened whenever possible rather than undercut, the music is scored for a full orchestra, and the lighting is professional if unexciting. Yet conventional narrative expectations are not always fulfilled. Thus, when Bradley, the American, decides late in the film to try to get back to the American lines at Anzio on his own, this potentially exciting interlude is casually reported to Pemberton as though it were an offstage death in Greek tragedy. The spots of "dead time" are also less thoroughly pruned here than in General della Rovere . The film seems, in other words, to occupy some uncomfortable position between two aesthetics and often threatens to fulfill neither. The problem for criticism arises when one tries to judge: looked at from the perspective of General della Rovere , it might be said that these moments when "nothing happens" are boring and that the entire film needs to be cut drastically in order to enhance dramatic interest. But if judged from the perspective of Voyage to Italy , say, we can regard Rossellini's longueurs as temps morts that refuse the shortcuts of conventional film grammar and thus begin to move from a smooth realism toward the disjunctive real.

In many ways Era notte a Roma is excellent as a "straight" film, and its depiction of immobility and stasis, the claims of Christian brotherhood, and the desire of all good men to live in peace is convincing and often moving. One


scene, in particular—the touching Christmas dinner in the attic—is especially memorable. The film likewise seems to be a fair portrayal of a particular historical moment: "Jane Scrivener" reports in Inside Rome With the Germans , her detailed diary of the occupation of the city, that it was quite common for Jews, patriots, and escaped prisoners of war to hide in extraterritorial Vatican convents and elsewhere, as Pemberton does, and her diary entry of January 8, 1944, estimates that more than four hundred escaped British prisoners were being hidden in Rome at that time.[2] Other aspects of the film, however, are much less conventional, especially its presentation of character. Thus, the American is "unconvincing" by any normal acting standards, but like "Joe from Jersey" in Paisan , he thereby challenges the film's prevailing realism with the tonic power of the apparently more real. The Englishman delivers his lines so slowly and artificially (in a manner that looks forward to the ponderous, yet effective, deliberation of La Prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV ) that we are continuously prevented from identifying with him emotionally. The Russian remains a mystery to us because he speaks only Russian throughout. In effect, Rossellini refuses to let us get to "know" these men. Similarly, years of indoctrination by Hollywood-style filmmaking lead us to expect that when Esperia and Pemberton get back together again at the end, after her boyfriend Renato's death, some love interest will develop between them. In fact, a ghastly publicity photo reproduced in Renzo Renzi's book on the film shows Leo Genn (Pemberton) and Giovanna Ralli (Esperia) enormously uncomfortable in each other's arms, trying to look amorous. Nothing could be further from the spirit of the film, however, and, defeating conventional expectations, nothing of the sort ever arises. For Rossellini, the depiction of the historical situation is more important than any banal love story. Even more powerfully, most viewers must surely be struck by how hard Pemberton takes Tarcisio's death at the end of the film. The moment is even further underlined by the uncomfortable silence and a restless, wandering camera. In most conventional films, of course, only women are allowed to be horrified after they have killed someone, and it comes as something of a shock to realize just how deeply disturbed Pemberton is. Paradoxically, our shock first registers in terms of a lack of belief, for Pemberton's is an emotion that somehow does not "fit," and thus a sense of "real-life" emotion once again breaks the illusionistic web of realism. What is perhaps most interesting is that, while we see these characters as somehow closer to the real, it is also true that they are stock types. The Russian is impetuous and emotional,[3] the American is practical but whiny, and the Englishman, replete with pipe, is the very embodiment of propriety and good sense. Though many critics have objected to this kind of national stereotyping, our double, contradictory sense of them as types and as unknowable, unpredictable individuals, "real people," actually makes them even more forceful as characters in a film.

This tension between realism and the real is also seen in Rossellini's typical opposition of fiction and documentary, and during the course of the film we see archival footage of the Allied landing at Anzio, the Americans arriving in Rome at the end of the film and, of course, the Germans leaving. Most important is the footage at the very beginning. We learn of the hundreds of Allied soldiers, especially pilots, who were rescued by ordinary Italians at great risk to their


own safety. A voice comes on, speaking American English, with the clear purpose of putting things in context for the film we are about to see, but surprisingly, this neutral, objective, unidentifiable voice suddenly moves into the first person and says, "I'd like to make a statement."[4] Here, perhaps, Rossellini is rehearsing the lesson of India: the only truth is a subjective one, and must always be based in the vagaries of the individual perceiver. In this case, the perception is thematically and formally made relative through its presentation by this unnamed American officer. (During the filming, the director told a reporter for the New York Times that the film would be "an eyewitness testimony . . . as seen by three hiding soldiers.") The voice functions both specifically, as an eyewitness, somebody who asserts and fills the "I" category of grammar, thus motivating the narrative, and generally since, unnamed, it is meant to stand for the entire group of Allied prisoners.[5] And then, brilliantly, Rossellini removes even the grounding of the subjective consciousness, for the speech ends by lavishly praising the "Christian charity" that was everywhere evident and that was the source of these good deeds, and insisting that no one ever acted out of selfish motives. At this moment the film cuts to the three "nuns," in a humorous visual ironization of the voice-over's remarks; we soon see what sharp dealers they are, and how little interested in accepting responsibility for the prisoners, doing so only when it appears they will profit financially.

Another major theme that reappears is that of communication. The languages come at the audience in an alarming and confusing barrage as the characters struggle to understand one another. Early in the film, for example, a comic scene has Pemberton say to Esperia in his faulty Italian, "I want you" instead of "I want tea." The communication theme is also broadened to include the relativity of culture. Thus, when Ivan is ashamed at having chased a live turkey out into the street, thus risking his friends' lives, he wants to leave the attic where they are hiding so that the others will be safe. He warmly embraces them one by one, but since he is speaking only Russian, they have no inkling of his intentions. He then abruptly sits down (which, we learn later, is part of the Russian ritual of leave-taking). Even more moving is the moment during the Christmas dinner in the attic when Ivan, trying to express how much his friends mean to him, begins with a few words of broken Italian, gives up, and speaks passionately in his native language. Neither we nor the others have the faintest idea what he is saying, but the experience is intensely emotional nonetheless. Heavily stressed in terms of the Pancinor zoom technique (which I will discuss in more detail later in this chapter), the moment obviously represents to Rossellini the dream of a full, feeling communication unmediated by the imperfections and false boundaries of diverse human languages. As such, it can be seen as obliquely related to the neorealist dream of the direct presentation of the essence of reality on the screen. This language-subverting outburst works so well, however, precisely because it occurs in the context of, and is defined against, all the other conventional linguistic signification generated in the film.

Other typical Rossellinian themes, such as concealment, imprisonment, and waiting, are continued in Era notte a Roma , but are less narrowly focused on a single strong personality like De Sica's in General della Rovere . Here the narrative is carried by a number of people—which some critics have claimed gives it


a certain undesirable diffuseness, but which also relates it to the decentered coralità of Francesco . Yet Rossellini had already gone too far in his exploration of the individual to be able to reimmerse himself in a simple anonymous group with a mind and will and spirit of its own, and in many ways the film is less choral than simply about a loose collection of individuals who remain individuals.

The theme of appearance versus reality of General della Rovere , especially located around the construction of self and identify, is here, too. Thus, the attic in which most of the action takes place is reached only through a fake cupboard, and the film is preoccupied with disguise and role-playing. Esperia and her fellow black marketeers are first introduced to us as innocent nuns on a foraging expedition among the farms in the Cerveteri region, where they agree to accept the escaped prisoners in exchange for olive oil and some very good prosciutto. This disguise (kept from the spectator as well) leads, back in Esperia's apartment in Rome, to some pleasant comic business when she begins to disrobe in front of the soldiers. Similarly, Pemberton's last disguise is as a priest.

The particular form of these disguises also points up a specific and important connection between Era notte a Roma and Open City , the association of Catholicism and the largely Communist Resistance. Priests like Don Valerio, for example, risk death by hiding Pemberton and the other soldiers in their monastery. Their religious charity, clearly an ongoing value of exceptional importance to the director, hearkens back to the innocent monks of the monastery sequence of Paisan and to the "perfect joy" of Francesco . Most important, it is they who show coralità when, in the second half of the film, the camera zooms slowly back from them at the refectory table (after the news of the German massacre of more than three hundred civilians at the Fosse Ardeatine) from an individual shot to a powerful group shot that suggests a modern recreation of the communality and brotherhood of the Last Supper, the scene represented in the fresco behind them.

Opposed to their goodness stands the corruption represented by Tarcisio, who is short, crippled, and—perhaps worst of all for Rossellini—a spoiled priest.[6] Like the lesbian Ingrid and the sadist Bergmann in Open City , and Enning, the homosexual teacher of Germany, Year Zero , Tarcisio functions emblematically throughout the film. This is true even when he is dead; at the very end, as the approaching dawn brings the American liberators, his lifeless foot sticking out of the door clearly signifies the death of a decadent fascism as well. Even more impressive is the scene in which Tarcisio, having tracked the escaped pilot to the monastery, is able to separate the real priests from those merely masquerading as priests by forcing them to complete a Latin prayer (and thus perverting its purpose). Don Valerio and his fellow priests foil Tarcisio's plan and effect a beautiful, literally choral statement of brotherhood at the same time by beginning to recite the prayer in unison . Tarcisio is shown in a one-shot, appropriately, completely frustrated.

Perhaps the film's closest connection with Open City is the motif of Rome itself. In the earlier film, it will be remembered, the Germans could come in contact with the city only through second-level representations like maps and photographs. In Era notte a Roma , as well, the outsider Pemberton can look


out upon Rome only through the window of his attic prison, as through a frame. Again, the visual shorthand for this motif becomes the dome of Saint Peter's, which is made much of throughout. It is, in fact, as though the director meant to enfold the whole of Open City within the later film, providing it with a significant intertextual resonance that also, of course, is meant to help legitimatize it.

As a marker and reification of history, Rome represents the possibility of a future beyond and without the Nazis, because it so clearly stands for the power and vastness of the past, before the German occupation. The cripple removes all doubt about his depravity when, at the end of the film, he says he longs for all of Rome to be destroyed when the Germans leave. The Latin language operates in similar terms: though Tarcisio temporarily controls the language and uses it for corrupt purposes, the real priests, as we saw, move quickly to reinstitute its historical and spiritual claim. The link with the past is asserted in other places as well: just as in Europa '51 and Voyage to Italy , classical sculpture—which in this film is packed for safekeeping, significantly, in the underground headquarters of the Resistance—states the ongoing presence of a potentially fruitful, if temporarily mislaid, tradition and further legitimatizes the anti-Fascist struggle. (Nor is it an accident that, when we first meet the three escaped soldiers, they are hiding in an ancient Etruscan tomb.) In addition, the unexplained presence of the religious statuary that crowds Esperia's attic and the continuous appearance of bells and churches (as well as the dome of Saint Peter's and the Latin language itself) are clear indications of the central place of the Catholic church in this tradition.

Rossellini's original impetus in making this particular film seems to have been didactic, for he told Renzi that he was concerned about the younger generation's ignorance of fascism. What worried him was the story he had heard about an Italian high school student who, when asked who Mussolini was, guessed that he was a neorealist film director. Yet one would be hard pressed to claim that Era notte a Roma is a historical film in the manner of the films of the last period of the director's career. Nor can it be compared with films like Francesco or even Europa '51; history is taken up here, yes, but the commercial demands for high drama and a strong plot line based on character, however unconventional that character might be, seem finally to work against any truly didactic purpose, at least as Rossellini would later define it.

In terms of technique and mise-en-scène, however, Era notte a Roma is clearly the prototype of the films to come. For one thing, the space before the camera, which the camera creates, now becomes fuller, thicker, more volumetric. To accomplish this, Rossellini returns to the large objects, especially tables, that he had used sporadically to organize and give form to this three-dimensional space. In addition, camera and character have been articulated together on a more equal psychological footing; now that the central female object (or victim) of the camera's gaze is gone, the camera is less obsessively stalking its prey. The sense of pursuit of the earlier films was largely an effect of their emotional distanciation coupled with the tracking camera, physically moving its way through space, and the particularly pressing psychological resonance that can accom-


pany such movement. Here even the tracking shots are different. Thus, during three distinct sequences (in the palazzo of the aristocratic family, at the Vatican, and in the monastery, when the disguised Allied soldiers read about the partisans' attack on the Nazis in the Via Rasella), the camera moves lyrically through space—with moments of stasis alternating with flowing pans—but always in tandem with the choreography of the characters, actively discovering new pieces of narrative and thematic information.

At the opposite pole from the Magnani and Bergman—era tracking shot is the most important new technique of all, the Pancinor zoom device, invented and operated by the director himself, which will completely alter his future filmmaking practice.[7] On one level, of course, the smooth optical mobility of the zoom lens promotes an even greater sense of mastery and command of space than does the tracking shot. It also gives the impression that it does not want to miss a single gesture or expression. Nevertheless, in this and in subsequent films, the zoom seems cooperative rather than threatening. Perhaps this is because Rossellini's use of the zoom is always slow and restrained, and because its intrusion on the character is optical rather than palpably physical, as with the tracking shot. It comes to seem more a benign recording device, a simple technological feature of the medium, rather than itself part of the forces oppressing the protagonist.

The device was first used in General della Rovere , as we have seen, but only twice. In Era notte a Roma —despite Renzi's reports of constant breakdowns of the device and the fact that the movement of the lens is not always as smooth as it will be in later films—it comes fully into its own, complementing the new sense of space that has been created. The first major benefit is that it allows Rossellini to reframe without having to cut. This does not mean that there are no cuts in the film; in fact, there are many, and they are handled much more conventionally—carefully cutting on head movements and other action—than in any previous film.[8] Nevertheless, when the director begins a take in medium or long shot and then wants to move in closer to pick up a character's expression, he is able to do so with the zoom, without having to cut to a closer shot. The principal result is to enhance greatly the possibilities of the plan-séquence always so dear to Rossellini and his supporter Bazin; now the only constraint on the length of the take is the amount of film stock that can be held in the magazine at one time. Perhaps the greatest practical benefit, however, one rarely acknowledged by critics, was financial, for the optical "editing in the camera" accomplished during the shooting of the film saved a great deal of postproduction time and expense. It is no exaggeration to say that the later historical films could never have been made without the economies afforded by the use of the zoom.

Aesthetically, the zoom gave Rossellini additional expressive possibilities. He told Renzi, "The Pancinor is like a camera in a vacuum, like holding a camera in your hand. The director, in the course of the scene, can put the accents wherever he wants."[9] One good example of how the Pancinor works occurs during Ivan's impassioned Christmas speech in Russian that was discussed earlier. As he begins speaking, the camera is in medium shot and then, very slowly, almost imperceptibly, zooms in for maximum emotional effect. (Later


the zoom will also be utilized as a rather more distanced probing or investigative device, not unlike the earlier tracking shots—though without their psychological pressure—but in this film its effect is primarily the conventional one of heightening emotion.) As Ivan gives up and begins speaking Russian, the camera zooms back out, just as slowly, as though his very being were expanding through love to encompass the others in the room as the lens movement ends as a group shot. (The other magnificent use of the Pancinor in this film occurs in the Last Supper sequence in the monastery, described earlier.)

These are only the moments that stand out. Ultimately more significant is the general sense of space that is created within the frame when zooms more frequently replace cuts. Simply put, the zoom seems to make the space more whole and, at the same time, more plastic. Because the optical eye can so effortlessly traverse it, this space seems as infinitely expandable and collapsible as a giant accordion. In a way, space comes to seem more malleable, more vulnerable to artistic manipulation; it is less rigidly and uninvitingly simply there as a flat represention, a picture of only two dimensions that lacks depth. With the zoom, space can be entered, pierced, penetrated—but omnisciently, almost magically, without the gross physicality of the tracking movement. Thus, it would seem to approach even closer the neorealist dream of the unmediated presentation of the essence of reality. What is particularly interesting, however, is that, paradoxically, the zoom always insists on calling attention to itself as an effect of technique. This new cinematic device will not ever let us forget that it is precisely that, a cinematic device.


Viva l'Italia!

Successful among the public and the widest range of Italian opinion-molders for the first time since Paisan , Rossellini was next commissioned by the Italian government to make a film on Giuseppe Garibaldi. The film—Viva l'Italia! —was to be part of the celebration of the centenary of the Italian hero's exploits with "the Thousand" in liberating the south of Italy from the Bourbons, the first step in unifying all of Italy. Rossellini was now back in the good graces of those who mattered, and the film premiered at the Teatro dell'Opera, with the president of the republic in attendance. Once released, the film was moderately successful at the box office, earning over 43 million lire in its initial run and, by the time Aprà and Berengo-Gardin gathered their data in April 1961, it had earned a total of nearly 165 million lire.[1]

This cinematic complicity with the ruling elite has seemed suspect to many, both at the time and since. The editors of the British Film Institute dossier on the director, echoing anti-Rossellini criticism in Italy, have described it as "in many ways a remake of the fascist propaganda film 1860 made by [Alessandro] Blasetti in 1933."[2] It is true that Rossellini's film is unarguably "patriotic" in the most blatant ways, even beginning and ending with the Italian tricolor waving proudly to the militant strains of the national anthem. Nor is it critical in any serious sense, aside from rehearsing the standard revisionist view of the risorgimento as the "betrayed revolution." Yet Rossellini's version is of a vastly lower key than Blasetti's. Guarner has recognized this as well and offers an exemplary contrast between the two. The earlier film, he says, shows Garibaldi

walking among his men declaiming his famous speech "Qui si fa l'Italia o si muore!" [Here we make Italy or we die!] Transformed into a mythical figure,



Humanizing a hero: Garibaldi (Renzo Ricci) directs his officers in  Viva l'Italia!  (1960).

he remains invisible, as his progress is suggested by subjective camera-movements. It is entirely faithful to a heroic tradition in the cinema and is not lacking in strength. The aim is obviously to dramatise historical fact and to add the desired emphasis to the events shown. . . . [In Rossellini's film the] scene is treated quite differently. Giuseppe Garibaldi eats bread and cheese, asks for salt and then in a lengthy, static shot, explains that the slope of the land offers tactical advantages against General Landi's army, calmly concluding "Qui si fa l'Italia o si muore!" as a quiet acceptance of fact.[3]

This dedramatization of historical events is clearly related to the fictional dedramatization of Rossellini's earlier films, and is directly linked to his simultaneous attempt to demystify the Garibaldi legend.

Rossellini made a great deal out of this "humanizing" of Garibaldi, and, in the interview with Pio Baldelli and his students ten years after the film was released, was still complaining about the insults he had received because he had dared to present Garibaldi as less than utterly heroic. It is true that the demystification of national heroes, which paralleled the rise in world literature of the fictional antihero, was rather novel for 1960, and it is also true that conservatives were scandalized by this "desecration." Yet Rossellini is avoiding the real issue, for his insistence on showing Garibaldi warts and all finally ends up erecting, as we shall see, a different, but equally heroic, monolith in its place. Nevertheless, this "new" myth is hardly one that would have been pleasing to Fascist


propaganda, and thus the comparison with Blasetti's Garibaldi is misleading at best.

Viva l'Italia! occupies a peculiar and obviously transitional place within Rossellini's oeuvre. Many critics have unproblematically placed in among the director's history films, but while this placement is correct according to a certain classic Hollywood idea of history, the film differs significantly from those of Rossellini's final creative period. In fact, it shares a great deal with the "commercialism" of his two previous films and the two films that follow. Despite the dedramatization of historical events, dramatic emotion is often, though not consistently, played up, and a love interest is provided (in a brief and frivolous scene when the Thousand cross the Strait of Messina from Sicily) by the beautiful and totally implausible Rosa, played by Giovanna Ralli (Esperia of Era notte a Roma ). Furthermore, battle scenes, hand-to-hand combat, and intense moments replete with firing squads occupy the screen almost from the very start. In fact, the battle scenes are enormously well done, the long shots of clashing armies reminiscent of the best of Griffith's Birth of a Nation , and among the most powerful ever filmed. (These sequences make it clear, once again, that if Rossellini had chosen to, he could have been quite successful as a conventional filmmaker.) Despite its insistence on a "plain" Garibaldi, the film luxuriates in spectacle instead of thematizing and problematizing it, as La Prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV would six years later. Perhaps the most basic difference from the later films is that Rossellini is here playing to popular tastes, retelling an already thoroughly known story rather than trying to inform his audience about something new.

Formally, short, sketchlike scenes—a longtime Rossellini technical staple usually in the service of narrative unconventionality—function perfectly in tandem with the uncharacteristically quick cutting, in places, to keep the level of dramatic excitement high. For example, early in the film conventional cutting on the various moving parts of a printing press expresses the hurly-burly of the moment and also allows Rossellini to indulge his penchant for showing how mechanical objects, especially from an earlier period, work. (In addition, the very presence of the antique press itself, as we have seen in the other protohistory films, helps to bridge the gap between past reality and present representation, because it is part of both.) Immediately after, the details of the historical moment are conveyed to us in the most classic narrative fashion, with a montage of newspaper headlines outlining Garibaldi's progress. The sound track contains many songs from the period (during one especially effective scene, the opposing forces even compete against each other's singing), as well as a full complement of Hollywood-style historical epic music. The acting is relaxed, appropriate to the desire to depict a "real-life" Garibaldi, yet traditional at the same time: gestures, expression, timing, and delivery are much more conventional than in the later history films. In other words, what have somewhat sloppily been called the Brechtian elements of Rossellini's later aesthetic are severely understated or even absent in Viva l'Italia!

The film is thus clearly à mi-chemin between the conventional techniques of the fiction film and the more rigorous demands of the didactic films to come. Sometimes the two impulses even seem at war with one another. For example,


in the scene that shows the Bourbon general staff planning its next encounter with Garibaldi, the officers are "acting" for all they are worth, something that Rossellini never would have allowed in the Bergman-era films. Yet the camera itself, in a kind of understated, emotionally neutral counterpoint, remains stationary, merely records, and refuses to participate in the elaboration of spectator involvement. The camera, in fact, seems to become the locus of the elements of the film that resist total capitulation to the conventional and the commercial. In addition to preferring the stasis of the plan-séquence , for example, the camera almost always opts for the static two-shot, never giving in to emotion-heightening close-ups or standard shots of action and reaction.

The zoom, though by now a fixed part of Rossellini's technique, is used quite sparingly in Viva l'Italia! , compared with both Vanina Vanini , Rossellini's next film, and Era notte a Roma , and the constant use of the zoom in those films to reframe and tighten is missing here. When the zoom is used, it seems disguised; thus, standard Rossellini camera movements back through a crowd listening to a speech or watching some spectacle are here so subtle that it is even difficult to tell definitively, especially in interiors, whether they are zooms or simple dollies. The zoom is sometimes used thematically, as well—for example, to suggest the oneness of men and their landscape. Even in scenes of the troops resting, the perspectival flattening of the long zoom lens seems to inscribe the men ever more totally into the surrounding hills and valleys. Before one important battle, the camera lyrically plays over various "domestic" scenes in Garibaldi's camp. Then, in the same shot, it picks up the enemy on a distant ridge, and, in an extremely subtle zoom that is almost completely masked by an accompanying pan, moves in closer, thus suggesting the coming physical encounter by first enacting it visually and spatially. Similarly, Garibaldi's deep connection with the people is demonstrated by the zoom lens. When Naples has fallen, for example, the camera shows us a huge, celebrating crowd from behind; then, as Garibaldi's words are heard, the camera seems to seek him out, the zoom finally finding him in the midst of giving a speech from a balcony. Since the long shot of the crowd and the final tight shot on Garibaldi are both part of the same plan-séquence , the equation between him and the people is forcefully made.

The extremely lengthy long shots of the battle scenes also serve a distancing or objectifying function. One marvelous shot, for example, shows Garibaldi's men charging up the hill against the king's troops, accompanied by a slight zoom for clarification, all in one continuous take as the battle rages. In spite of the distance, the effect is more dramatic than ever, as though we were witnessing the drama of history itself, the drama of men's collective struggles—a resurgence, perhaps, of coralità —rather than the merely individual. A Hollywood war movie would want to "humanize" the battle by seeing it in terms of a few soldiers. Here, all we can identify is the flag moving up and down the hill, according to the fortunes of the battle: it comes to stand metonymically for the men, and is somehow more emotionally affecting than a closer shot would have been.[4]

In spite of this distancing, however, Viva l'Italia! is still far from the rigor of the later history films, and its historical approach is actually more closely aligned with a film of ten years earlier, Francesco , in which a similar intention to get to the "real man" was paramount. The primary difference between the two films is


that Rossellini is now more interested in event and situation, and their interaction with character, than in spiritual truth. Thus, the most famous battles of the Sicilian and southern penisular campaign are reenacted in excruciatingly exact (and fascinating) historical detail, as Rossellini insisted he had gotten everything from contemporary historical sources.[5] But if Rossellini's attempts was to portray Garibaldi, like Saint Francis, in all his raw humanity, and thereby to demystify him, the force of a century of hagiography consistently elevates the man above all other men. Thus, Garibaldi shows his nobility by pointing out to his staff that the wounded enemy troops are Italians, too, "just like us." He visits the enemy and tells them how well they have fought. When they try to kiss him, he insists that he is only a man, and then kisses them . He says, "Siamo uomini uguali" (we are all equal men), clearly speaking for the director, but the adoring response of the wounded soldiers in fact denies his statement. Earlier in the film, he has been shown single-handedly stopping a panicky retreat of his inexperienced men. They see him as godlike and, thus, despite all the homely and affecting business about peeling oranges, rheumatism, and pince-nez reading glasses, made so much of in the film, we must see him the same way, divinely transformed through the intensity of his troops' devotion.

Throughout the film Rossellini walks a formal tightrope. Thus, with the famous, obligatory words (naturally much less of a problem for a non-Italian audience) "Qui si fa l'Italia o si muore": the actor Ricci utters them dramatically enough, but to an audience of one. In this way the director achieves the antirhetorical mode he wants, yet still slightly underlines the significance of the moment by means of the second or two of hesitation by Garibaldi's companion, who has been clearly impressed by the words. (As with so many other elements of the film, Rossellini is in a transitional phase here; most of the famous phrases of the later history films, especially Christ's words of The Messiah , arguably the best-known words of all, will be uttered with such a lack of emphasis and drama that they are almost lost.) Similarly, the legendary meetings between Garibaldi and Mazzini, for example, or between Garibaldi and King Emanuel II manage to be both low-key and yet subtly dramatic at the same time. The best example comes at the end, when, for political reasons, the king has come to put Garibaldi's troops in reserve. The people are shouting for the hero of the revolution as much as for this "foreign" king, but Garibaldi submits to his fate. One lovely, severely understated long shot of him standing in front of a peasant's shack, victorious in battle but defeated in peace, quietly and efficiently shows the extent of his disappointment.

Another effect of Rossellini's attempt to desanctify Garibaldi, again as in Francesco , is an occasional welcome decentering of the hero. Thus, in one scene in which the director seems to move toward a wider perspective on the historical events themselves, we are treated to a magnificent moment of the abdication of the Bourbon king Francis II and his departure from his residence in Naples. There is obviously no need to treat the king and queen as villains (and to turn us against them), at least not one hundred years later, and their nobility and gentle grace are allowed to speak well for them. The camera shoots through the long, magnificent halls in extreme long shot and in long take as the characters move diagonally, in exquisite compositions, down the monumental staircase and


across the screen. The maids sob, and we realize again the historical truth that every victory is a defeat for someone who is innocent (in this case, the maids) and that history is always more complicated than simple narratives of good triumphing over evil.

But if Rossellini avoids painting Garibaldi's Bourbon adversaries in a negative light, the same cannot be said for his political adversaries, most especially Count Cavour. Popular myth has it that this Machiavellian prime minister of the house of Savoy blatantly manipulated Garibaldi for his own ends. In some ways, this is quite literally true; more recent views, however, tend to see Garibaldi and Cavour as necessary, complementary opposites, the two poles of the dialectic that enabled the final unification of Italy to occur. Cavour is nowhere, and yet everywhere, in Rossellini's film. He is the clear villain of the piece, and some have felt, not without justice, that the director would have done better to treat the situation more dialectically himself, as a struggle between the wish and the reality of politics, rather than between conniving villains and innocent heroes. Mario Verdone has not implausibly suggested that Rossellini gave in to the anti-Cavour view of Italian history because he saw him, in quite personal terms, as the enemy of all that the director stood for: "generosity, enthusiasm, adventure, and most of all, improvisation."[6] (It is clear, in any case, that Rossellini identified strongly with Garibaldi, as he would later identify with Socrates, Leon Battista Alberti, and Jesus Christ.)

One of the more interesting views concerning Cavour's absence in the film has come from Colin MacCabe, writing in Screen . Working from a Lacanian-Althusserian model that describes how films "construct" the viewers who watch them, MacCabe accuses Rossellini of allowing the viewing subject to be constituted in terms of the dominant discourse of the screen itself. Assuming that the best film is the one that reveals its constructed nature, MacCabe chides the director for not presenting the camera directly. Eliding the camera, in effect, makes what is offered in the film "in some sense beyond argument." MacCabe is right here, of course, but surely he is expecting too much of Rossellini, who, in spite of his technical innovations was, ideologically speaking, always thoroughly unself-conscious. He also forgets Rossellini's lifelong, if inconsistent, placement in the economics of mainstream cinema. Besides, such a blatant self-reflexivity surely would not have been possible in a film commissioned by the Italian government. Yet MacCabe's remarks are valuable nonetheless, since they help us understand the film's epistemological strategies, and deserve to be quoted at length.

In Viva l'Italia! the glaring omission of the film is the absence of Cavour. It is wrong to attack this omission on purely political grounds for it is an inevitable result of a certain lack of questioning of the camera itself. Garibaldi can be contrasted with Francisco II of Naples because their different conceptions of the world are so specifically tied to different historical eras that the camera can cope with their contradiction within an historical perspective. Here is the way the world is now—there is the way the world was then. But to introduce Cavour would involve a simultaneous contradiction—a class contradiction. At this point the camera itself, as a neutral agent, would become impossible. For it would have to offer two present contradictory articulations of the world and thus reveal its own presence. This cannot happen within a Rossel-


lini film where if we are continually aware of our presence in the cinema (particularly in his historical films)—that presence itself is not questioned in any way. We are not allowed any particular position to read the film but we are allowed the position of a reader—an unproblematic viewer—an eternally human nature working on the material provided by the camera.[7]

This is not the whole story, as we shall see when the history films proper are taken up, but it is clearly one important perspective on Rossellini's filmmaking practice.

Perhaps the most problematic aspect of this film lies in its attempt to depict historical truth or historical reality, however these terms might be defined. This is a crucial question, of course, and it became an important feature of the polemics surrounding the films made during the last period of Rossellini's career. Is this the way the events really happened? Can we ever reproduce historical reality? One of Baldelli's students insisted in the interview with the director that a recital of facts is not enough, that they must be motivated, must be interpreted. Rossellini replied, "I don't want to teach anything. I only want to look. I'm only a worker, a go-between, and that's it. Why do I have to interpret?" When pressed a few minutes later by another student he responded testily:

Look, you're always saying the same thing: that you have to be critical and that being critical, you have to accept a certain point of view, and accepting this point of view, you absolutely have to convey it to others. But why do I have to do this digestive work? Those who watch the film should do it. If we had a plate of pasta in front of us, everybody would want to eat it. They wouldn't wait for me to eat it and digest it so that, avoiding the exertion, they could then eat it. It would be disgusting, no?[8]

As these remarks indicate, Rossellini's view of the possibility of conveying historical reality is at odds with his clear awareness, in the earlier films, of the impossibility of depicting anything other than a subjectively based present reality. His reluctance to admit a subjective bias to the portrayal of history may, in fact, have a simple explanation: an audience might easily accept present-day Italy, Germany, or India as "seen by Rossellini," but since history is commonly considered as something more or less fixed, the overt relativization implied in "Rossellini's view" of Garibaldi, Socrates, Descartes, and so on, would be unacceptable. As we saw in Francesco , however, Rossellini is perhaps more sophisticated on this subject than his detractors have thought, for he is not really attempting to represent historical reality as such, but the historical artifacts that continue to exist in the films' present. Thus, one could make the claim that in Viva l'Italia! Rossellini is faithfully recreating and representing the historical documents of the period, which are already a representation, of course, but obviously more immediately available than the period itself. Similarly, Gianni Menon has pointed out an interesting feature of the film's dialogue that escaped the ear of this nonnative speaker of Italian. One of Garibaldi's officers, major Bandi (played by Franco Interlenghi), since he is the author of the memoirs on which the film is most directly based, speaks throughout in a nineteenth-century form of written Italian, while the others speak more or less modern


Italian.[9] The implications of this strategy are overwhelming to consider, and a larger discussion of this issue will have to be postponed until later.

No matter how one charts the complexities of historical representation, however, there is a certain sense in which the film fails as "education for the masses" because it never really goes beyond the level of popular myth. For Pio Baldelli, who has been most eloquent on this point, the film could have been useful had it provided a real analysis of poverty at the time (including why peasant participation in Garibaldi's expedition was discouraged by his staff) or had it depicted the clash of northerners and southerners, thus making it a Paisan 1860 , "the facts seen from the point of view of the people."[10] Alternatively the film could have explained the social and economic reasons for the expedition, the international circumstances surrounding it, and the various political forces represented by Garibaldi, Cavour, and Mazzini. In Baldelli's view, and it is clear that Rossellini would have agreed with him, especially in the later period, historical films should stop portraying history merely as encounters of specific famous individuals.[11] When the film was released, a related dispute developed in the left-wing newspaper Il Paese as Rossellini conducted a guerrilla war of letters with some of his screenwriters. They had wanted to draw the political parallels with contemporary life more firmly; in Rossellini's view, this would have violated the film's validity as history.[12]

In spite of its problematic relation to history and politics, however, the film is important in Rossellini's increasingly irregular "development." He is obviously trying to follow up on some of the lessons learned in the making of India , moving toward reliance on reason, on intellectual analysis, yet he is still trapped in the exigencies of conventional filmmaking, and will continue to be for at least two more films. But he is clearly on his way.


Vanina Vanini

Once again, Rossellini was unable to extend his string of successes, and his next venture, Vanina Vanini (1961), was another box-office disaster. What is especially interesting about this film, though, is the particular way it has been treated by the critics; in the twenty-five years since its initial release, it has been praised and reviled in equally strong terms. It seems to have been, and to be, a matter not of simply liking the film or disliking it, but of elevating it into a masterpiece or consigning it to the realm of the unspeakable. Furthermore, even the mundane particularities of production have been rife with controversy, and both the director and the principal screenwriters have disowned the picture, though for completely different reasons.

The basic story, characters, and even much of the dialogue are taken from a story of the same name by Stendhal, part of his Chroniques italiennes (1829). Set in early nineteenth-century Rome, it concerns a young princess named Vanina Vanini whose father, Asdrubale Vanini, is an important member of the papal court. A revolutionary named Pietro Missirilli, bent on overthrowing the Pope's temporal power in the name of a free Italy, has been captured while in Rome to assassinate a papal spy who has infiltrated the carbonari , as the members of his sect are called. Pietro escapes but is wounded in the process, and because Prince Asdrubale's mistress, who met Missirilli on the coach to Rome, may be compromised if he is discovered, the prince takes him to his own palace to recuperate. There he is discovered by Vanina, and they fall passionately in love. As the weeks pass, their love becomes physically and emotionally all-consuming, but both are troubled—she by religious scruples, he by his apparent seduction away from his revolutionary cause. In a desperate attempt to keep Pietro, she betrays


his group to the papal authorities. Since Pietro is the only one who has not been captured, however, he turns himself in to avoid the suspicion of betrayal. In prison, Vanina reveals to him what she has done; he utterly rejects her, beating her with the very chains that bind him. At the end of the film, they seem to achieve a peace of sorts—he by climbing the gallows, she by fleeing to the solace of a convent.

Unfortunately, the version of the film currently in circulation is, in important ways, not Rossellini's. Jean-André Fieschi has called it "a mutilated masterpiece, like the Victory of Samothrace," and Rossellini himself has told a sad story of checking during postproduction with the color lab responsible for putting the film together. When he informed the lab personnel that they had mistakenly put the opening credits on the fourth reel rather than the first, they replied that they were only doing what they had been told.[1]

The villain of the piece is the producer Morris Ergas, whose list of misdeeds is long. First, he forced the film's star, Sandra Milo, allegedly his mistress at the time, on a reluctant Rossellini. Years later the director defended his acquiescence in this imposition by maintaining that for him the important thing was to get the film done. Trying his best to salvage the character, Rossellini then dubbed Milo's voice, which he found "breathy" and hard to understand, with the voice of another actress, Andreina Pagnani. (Given the American obsession with authenticity and "naturalness," this might seem to be the kind of thing that would be done to Rossellini rather than by him, but in fact, the practice was not at all uncommon in Italian cinema of the period, especially after the heyday of neorealism. Since all voices are "dubbed" in a studio after the actual filming itself, it is obviously only a short step to dubbing with a different voice to achieve the strongest performance possible.) But even here Rossellini was frustrated, because Ergas had Milo do her own dubbing, once again behind the director's back, ostensibly to make her eligible for the best actress award at the Venice film festival, since by the rules, actresses whose voices had been dubbed by others were not eligible. Pio Baldelli also reports (without giving a source) that a scene was added during the sixth reel as well—without Rossellini's knowledge—to give Milo more play.[2]

Other changes were even more serious. Thus, the role of the Countess Vitelleschi, Prince Vanini's mistress (played by Martine Carol) seems, in the extant version, inconsistent and poorly developed; according to Rossellini, it was her part that suffered the most from Ergas' behind-the-scenes editing. Baldelli claims, for example, that a full fifteen minutes was cut from her opening carriage scene with Pietro Missirilli, footage that Rossellini had included to sketch in the history and mores of the period but that apparently was cut because it did not contain any "action." Fieschi, writing in Cahiers du cinéma , says that an early scene in which Pietro is chased across the top of the castello of San Nicola was also cut, a decision that, given the producer's apparent commercial priorities, seems baffling.[3]

The opening of the film at the Venice film festival, which Rossellini tried to prevent, was an utter disaster. Italian critics loathed it. Gian Maria Guglielmino, for example, writing in the Gazzetta del Popolo , called it "a really bad film: decidedly, incredibly, bad." For him, the battle of words between the producer and



History and sex: Vanina Vanini (Sandra Milo) begs the forgiveness of her
lover Pietro (Laurent Terzieff) in  Vanina Vanini  (1961).


the director was a mere smoke screen, for it was obvious that both of them were trying to shirk the responsibility for this horrible film. He also insisted that, even with the missing footage, the film could not have been redeemed.[4] The film's ill luck did not stop at Venice, either, for according to Fieschi, it was badly distributed in France, was poorly dubbed, and was not even released in a subtitled version (which is true for only the most commercial of film releases in that country).[5] It was not shown in the United States until the distribution rights were purchased by Corinth Films in 1979.

Rossellini also ran into trouble on his left flank, as it were, for the two principal screenwriters (as listed in the credits), Antonello Trombadori and Franco Solinas, disclaimed responsibility for the final version of the film. A few cynical commentators have suggested that they, too, were merely trying to abandon a sinking ship, but on the surface, at least, their response seems more ideologically motivated. Both were members of the Communist party, and they seem to have been responsible for whatever remains in the final script of contemporary political criticism.[6] They were particularly bothered, as might be expected, by Rossellini's changes concerning religion. Thus, they objected to the director's addition of Vanina's sexually troubled confessor and the placement of the priest "at the center of the film" (an exaggeration), giving "the story an ideological orientation which is foreign to us." Similarly, they complained about Rossellini's major departures from his source material in portraying Vanina as tormented by her religious convictions and in ending the film with her entering a convent.[7]

One of their more interesting complaints is that Rossellini changed the scene of the meeting of the carbonari from the "dramatic" mode, to one stressing it as "ritual." For us this indicates that even in this mutilated, operatic, enormously melodramatic and sentimentalized film, Rossellini's informational, antinarrative impulse is still alive. Thus, we are given a full treatment of the freemason's meeting (which is not described in Stendhal), not because it advances the narrative line (it does not), but because it is, again, something factual of the period that seems worth knowing for its own sake. Also evident is Rossellini's continual fascination with his native city: the film is marked with many shots of its towers, a papal parade, and the ever-present, overarching symbol of the city, the dome of Saint Peter's. Further, in his desire to evoke a specific time and place, he has freely availed himself of the work of the early-nineteenth-century Roman dialect poet Giuseppe Gioachino Belli for various anecdotes concerning the social life of the city, and has obviously gone back to Piranesi for many of his opening visual images. In fact, while the main story lines have been taken from Stendhal's story "Vanina Vanini," Rossellini has also borrowed liberally from the French writer's other works set in the same location, such as Les Promenades dans Rome, Napoli Roma Firenze , and, especially for the colloquy at the ball between the homosexual and the German ambassador, the essay De l'Amour . Guarner reports that one of the early titles the director considered was the kind of inclusive, documentary-flavored one that was in fact the singular form of the one chosen by Stendhal, Chronique italienne . Like Stendhal, in other words, but even more strongly, Rossellini wanted to portray a place and an age, not just tell a story.[8] However, if we can trust the director's complaints in this regard, most of the Rossellini documentation ended up on the cutting-room floor, for it


is, as usual, precisely this kind of "slow" material, not directly related to the advancement of the narrative, that can seem expendable to a more commercial mind. Nevertheless, some of Rossellini's "digressions" have remained—notably, the colloquy on love and the Freemason ceremony, referred to above—moments that, as J. Hoberman has approvingly pointed out in the Village Voice , "account for the film's unconventional narrative flow—alternately elliptical and expansive."[9]

It is clear that the desire to approach the past and dramatize its ideas ("I made the film as a work of historical research," Rossellini said in 1972) is here just as strong as it was in Viva l'Italia! , but the film's simultaneous status as romantic costume drama works against the fulfillment of that desire. History is seen only in terms of its effects on specific individuals, and their overheated passions obscure Rossellini's historical investigation, which is centered on the Church's role as temporal ruler. Again, the director has sidestepped questions of representation by not attempting to recreate history itself; Vanina Vanini does not pretend to be an accurate portrayal of Rome in the 1820s, but offers itself rather as an adaptation of Stendhal's fictional rendering of that period. Appropriately, then, a great deal of the film's dialogue is taken verbatim from Stendhal's story.

As costume drama, the film is also intensely self-aware, in the manner of Visconti's Senso , with which it is often compared. Both films stress their operatic mode, primarily through mannered acting, overblown musical scores, and non-naturalistic lighting and sets (especially in night scenes). Early in Vanina Vanini , for example, we find Pietro looking for his confederate in Rome while trying to avoid the police. He ducks into a brothel, and as he runs quickly through its rooms, the colors change blatantly, and inexplicably, from yellow to green to red to blue. Similarly, Rossellini's refusal of banal over-the-shoulder and reaction shots in favor of the two-shot inevitably makes the entire film seem staged.[10] Perhaps most obvious in this regard is the use of the Pancinor, Rossellini's director-controlled zoom mechanism, for it is in this film that the device reaches its apotheosis of lyric expressivity. The nervous zoom so constantly reframes, moving dramatically from long exterior shots to intimate two-shots without cutting, that the spectator can hardly fail to notice the movement itself. Space becomes amorphous, and the least bit of looseness in the frame is relentlessly suppressed. These movements are also often gracefully choreographed with crane shots, somehow perfectly appropriate in a film in which the morality of the waltz is discussed. (This combination of camera and zoom movement, which we saw the hesitant beginnings of in the second half of Era notte a Roma , is also used to discover various groups discussing politics at the papal court; this movement will become a standard expository device in Rossellini's later didactic films.) The zoom can also sometimes carry an emotional charge, as when Vanina declares her love for Pietro and the camera zooms in as though to pin and trap him, foreshadowing what the emotional effect of this love affair will be. At other times, such as the proclamation scene, when harsh punishments are announced for antipapal activities, the zoom becomes aligned with the government forces as the agent of an implacably active search as it restlessly scans the crowd.

Color is also important to a film as melodramatic and as stylized as this, and


the Eastmancolor of the prints in circulation in the United States is almost as bright and fresh as the best Technicolor prints of older films. The overall effect in many of the scenes suggests the warmth of an old master oil painting. The colors become especially effective in the scenes in Vanina's room before she falls in love, with their soft combination of light pastels, beige, and off-white. The strongly stated colors of the rest of the film are also clearly meant to be taken in a structural or symbolic sense, in general working expressionistically to suggest emotional states and basic oppositions, as when Vanina, all in black, stands between the two cardinals, all in red, as she pleads for Pietro's pardon.[11]

Despite the commercialism of the film, the code of realism is again subverted by Rossellini's refusal to underline traditional dramatic "high points." Thus, the action is so leveled that the murders are very quickly done, with no emotional buildup at all, like the shootings in Paisan . Similarly, Vanina's decision to inform on Pietro's coconspirators is taken in a moment and merges imperceptibly with the putting on of her gloves. The dedramatization of these moments is particularly striking in the context of the film's self-consciously emotional content. In this way, it matches Stendhal's presentation of the same subject matter, for the mode of his presentation is, as well, severely understated. Jean-André Fieschi is right, in this regard, to insist that "the visual violence of the film, the sudden character of the most important acts, is an exact equivalent of the sharp, abrupt, inexorable side of [Stendhal's] short story."[12]

Even more complicated is our relation to the characters. Once again, Rossellini offers us an examination of male-female relations, and again, as in the Bergman-era films, we are kept from siding with either the man or the woman. The ambivalent misogynism of the earlier films also reappears. The religious torment that Vanina undergoes (in a sense, simply an extended, more violent version of what Karin experiences at the very end of Stromboli ) was Rossellini's invention; not a trace of it exists in Stendhal's text. In other words, Rossellini again chooses to inflict emotional punishment on his female lead, but this punishment also functions, once again, to make Vanina a real character of equal weight with the male protagonist, and as Hoberman claims, Vanina's "romantic Catholicism is taken as seriously as Pietro's revolutionary ardor."[13] In Stendhal's version, Vanina is selfish and vain, in a very uncomplicated way, and once Pietro rejects her, she simply goes off and marries the most eligible bachelor of the papal court, who has been pursuing her from the beginning.[14] Thus, if Rossellini punishes the woman, he at least takes her seriously as an ethical being whose moral conflicts are as significant as any man's. There is also a level, as we saw with Carmela and Harriet in Paisan , on which Rossellini appreciates the primitiveness of her emotions.[15] And in his portrayal of Prince Asdrubale (played by Paolo Stoppa, the Bixio of Viva l'Italia! ), who speaks to his mistress in exactly the same childish terms he uses with his daughter, the director clearly suggests that this society's treatment of women as playthings is one more sign of its corruption.[16]

The parity of the male and female figures is also made clear in sexual terms: both are equally complicitous and equally obsessed. Rossellini is masterful at suggesting the deeply sexual without having to show the least bit of explicit lovemaking. Other filmmakers, for all the steaminess of their character's physi-


cal encounters, often seem unable to capture the easy slide of sex toward obsession, the deepest threat to individual consciousness. Rossellini's characters insist upon their dying "love" for one another, but we sense that what is really at stake is sex. They initially find a freedom of sorts in their total abandonment to the flesh, but it soon enough becomes their prison; when Pietro beats Vanina at the end of the film for betraying his friends, it is ironic that only when his chains have finally become physically manifest does he become free. (It is also significant that this final meeting takes place in the chapel of the prison. There, the lovers are surrounded by objects of devotion, one last palpable sign of the Church's pressure, in different modes, on both of them.)

Earlier, when Pietro wants to leave because he feels guilty for abandoning his fellows, Vanina begs him to stay by saying that if she were a peasant girl, he would pay her, so he should pay her with three days of his time. In this, she reminds us of the prostitutes encountered early in the film by Pietro and the man he will kill—the joining of sex and money clearly manifesting the fleshly corruption that pervades papal Rome, which will come to a head in the ball scene and in Pietro and Vanina's destructive love. Pietro's internal conflict is also represented visually: when he is plotting against the pope, he stands boldly upright, but when he accompanies Vanina back to her bedroom in the castle, he cravenly slinks through the courtyard, obviously afraid. The mise-en-scène and the camera work create the same effect: the interior scenes, so oppressively claustrophobic, provide an exact equivalent for the spectator of the character's inner states, and our own restlessness matches theirs. After one enormously long scene in the bedroom, for example, we and Pietro are longing for the freedom of the outside; but Pietro decides to stay, there is a cut, and—we are still in the bedroom, just as Pietro is. At another point, the lovers seem utterly sick of one another's presence, and only their obsession keeps them together for "one more night" so that Vanina can inform on Pietro's friends. The deed done, Rossellini brilliantly conveys, through temps mort , their emotional lassitude and the fact that they have totally worn each other out. Their problem is the very opposite of Katherine and Alexander, the emotionless British couple of Voyage to Italy , for their overinvestment in the life of the flesh makes them just as unhappy as the Joyces' overinvestment in the opposite direction.

Rossellini continues his exploration of sexual obsession in the figure of the priest who is Vanina's confessor. He is obviously physically attracted to Vanina, but having renounced the pleasures of the flesh, he must struggle mightily to control himself. Rossellini has invented an extraordinary scene between him and Vanina in which raw sex is in the air, though its expression is disguised by the priest's invocation of renunciation and self-control. In this way, it is reminiscent of the masterful scene between the priest and Karin in Stromboli , though there, of course, it was the woman who was the sexual predator. The scene in Vanina Vanini is also marked by an exceptionally nervous and jerky use of the zoom, which calls attention to itself and seems perfectly appropriate to the scene's emotional charge. (Another scene cut by the producer before release, mentioned by Fieschi, apparently showed the priest flagellating himself before a statue of the Virgin.) Later, when the priest has been captured by the carbonari , he feverishly maintains that his mission in life is to free people from the flesh.


In a quick but eloquent gesture, his captor exclaims, "Bella libertà!" ("Some freedom!"). The film seems to suggest that one must find the proper balance between the flesh and the spirit, between Pietro and Vanina, on the one hand, and Katherine and Alex Joyce, on the other: a classical ideal that accords perfectly with Rossellini's increasing interest in the "whole person" in whom reason reigns. As Dante wanted us to learn from Paolo and Francesca, sexuality without the restraint of reason is debilitating and leads inevitably to the loss of individual freedom.

The priest serves a synecdochic function as well, for the entire society seems built on the repression or disguised expression of sexuality. He also serves Rossellini more directly as a diversionary displacement, for, in Stendhal's story, it is instead the cardinal, the principal candidate to become pope, whose nephew Vanina ends up marrying, who has "the taste . . . for beautiful women" (p. 333). In the film Vanina goes to beg forgiveness for her lover, and is met by two cardinals; in the story she never says that it is her lover she wants to free, and the encounter takes place alone with the cardinal in his bedroom. This whole scene in the story is actually quite strangely overdetermined, and flaunts an erotic resonance that nearly destroys the literal level.[17] None of this, of course, remains in the film, and it is obvious that one of the reasons for inventing Vanina's chaplain was to allow Rossellini the possibility of maintaining Stendhal's link between sexuality and the Church without offending the Vatican.

The two are also linked in Vanina's moral struggle: her sexual guilt is treated seriously and in no way, in 1961, considered old-fashioned. Nor does Rossellini think the issue can be rationally explained away as merely an example of the sexual repression inherent in Catholic moral teaching. Vanina's oscillation between guilt and sensual relapse is, in fact, scarcely less convincing than Stephen's in Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man . The spiritual striving that has marked many of Rossellini's films is simply seen here in its most institutional form. What counts for him here and elsewhere, however, is not the Catholic church per se, but the claims of the spiritual and the moral realm on our consciousness. Thus, Vanina's flight to the convent at the end of the film is only another version of the religious crisis endings of Stromboli, Voyage to Italy , and The Miracle , none of which are specifically Catholic. (The last film, in fact, clearly suggested the failure of organized religion to answer human spiritual needs.) Similarly, Vanina's impassioned speech to the cardinal in favor of love over religious objections links her with the misunderstood Irene of Europa '51; both insist that they are merely taking the Church's teaching about love seriously. The Church as institution is, once again, in conflict with the Church as repository of moral truth.

On another level, however—and this is where the film is perhaps most interesting—the Catholic church is important, for it is, after all, the dominant institution at the particular time and place that the film treats. What Rossellini manages to catch so well in Vanina Vanina , which is perhaps really understandable only to another Italian, is the peculiar position of the Church in Italian history as supreme in both the spiritual and the temporal worlds. Thus, if Stendhal focuses on the Church as a social and historical entity, with hardly a nod to its function as spiritual presence, we can see that Rossellini's addition of this di-


mension constitutes, in a sense, a legitimate "Italianizing" of the French writer's material.

The film ends as both characters "close" their lives—Pietro on a scaffold, Vanina in a convent. At the end of each short sequence, first Pietro and then Vanina boldly look out of the frame in identical, childlike gestures. Breaking the realistic frame of the story, they seem to be sharing one last farewell, or perhaps, like Tristan and Isolde, uniting beyond the confines of the social and physical world, where their love has been impossible. They attempt to transcend the limits of the narrative that has held them captive by breaking the bounds of cinema itself. In a very short while, Rossellini will attempt the same desperate gesture.


Anima Nera

Quite active during this frustrating period, Rossellini valiantly tried everything to free himself from commercial cinema. In 1961 he produced a compilation documentary known simply as Benito Mussolini in Italy (and in the English-speaking world as Blood on the Balcony ). Its director is listed as Pasquale Prunas, but its accent on raw information over analysis reveals Rossellini's presence; in any case, the film is straightforward and unexceptional. At the same time, he put his name to another documentary for television entitled "Torino nei cent'anni," which through the use of stills and newsreel footage documents Turin's place in the history of the last one hundred years. (Despite the fact that Aprà and Berengo-Gardin list this film in their "Documentazione," I have been unable to locate it. The director's son Renzo suggested to me that his father would sometimes allow the use of his name as a favor, and he doubted whether anybody had ever seen this film.)[1] Rossellini also directed the original stage version of Beniamino Joppolo's I carabinieri at this time, and, most important, is listed as a coscreenwriter of Godard's film version of the play. It is unclear just how much Rossellini actually had to do with this film, however, and it will not be discussed here.

His principal occupation during this period was a rather unfortunate feature film called Anima nera (Black Soul). In a career full of low points, it is nevertheless possible to mark this, Rossellini's last full-length commercial film, as the absolute nadir of his creative life. Ten years after it was made, Rossellini himself called it an "awful film," and claimed that it was one of only two films he was actually ashamed of having made. Based rather closely on an indifferent play of the same name by Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, it stars Vittorio Gassman (an-



Rossellini's nadir: Adriano (Vittorio Gassman) pays off a friend in  Anima nera  (1962).

other sign of its atypicality) as Adriano, a used-car dealer and small-time hustler approaching middle age, who marries Marcella (Annette Stroyberg), the twenty-year-old offspring of a proper bourgeois family. After their marriage, Marcella is visited by the aristocratic sister of one of Adriano's friends. The friend has recently been killed in a car accident and has left the family villa to Adriano; his sister strongly implies to Marcella that Adriano accomplished this by manipulating and tricking the brother, a homosexual. Outraged and hurt, Marcella leaves home, and in revenge, Adriano looks up his old girlfriend Mimosa, who is now a prostitute. We later learn that the homosexual brother left the villa to Adriano precisely in order to incense his despised sister. A final dramatic encounter takes place between Mimosa, who has spent the night with Adriano, and Marcella, who has not gone back to her parents as Adriano had thought. Adriano's wife finally "rescues" him from the clutches of his dissolute past, and the film ends with her insistence that he give up the villa for moral reasons and the outline of her plans for their "normal, banal" life together.

To say that Rossellini's heart was not in this picture would be a vast understatement. Anxious to move on to the grand didactic project he had been dreaming of since India , he marked time by taking on projects that he could make with the "normal ingredients," as he said later, "which is very easy to do." Unfortunately, this formula led to boredom and, thus, "Some small stuff was being pro-


duced, but really small stuff. It was the position that was dishonest, the way that I was approaching things that was dishonest."[2] The result was a film, made in twenty-seven days, that is awkwardly marked by a uncharacteristic desire to be "up-to-date." At its worst moments it becomes an unconscious parody of the alienated jazziness of the slightly earlier films of Antonioni's trilogy and Fellini's La dolce vita . For once the master imitates, and badly, his students.

Even Rossellini's most enthusiastic admirers have disliked this film, which has, unsurprisingly, never been released in the United States. Giuseppe Ferrara has called it "an almost complete surrender to commercialism."[3] Guarner says that it is "stuck at the level of a weepie" and that

it is real torture to see the director of Paisà and Viaggio in Italia resorting to supposedly modern movie components right down to strip-tease and sports cars. After the extreme economy and the almost miraculous spontaneity of his previous work, this is just a film. For the first time in his career, Rossellini is visibly working at Cinema. . . . Anima nera is a film of extraordinary sadness, because it shows Rossellini no longer believing in the cinema.[4]

I think it is now possible to see, however, that Anima nera has perhaps been treated a little too harshly. It has its moments. (And the final shot, which I want to discuss more fully below, is one of the most powerful of Rossellini's career.) For one thing, the film's visual style is not without interest: the strong blacks and whites of the exteriors are enhanced by the vibrant white backgrounds of the interiors, against which the characters become more sharply etched. The resultant visual harshness destroys any soft lines and thus accords well with the film's theme of alienation. In addition, while Rossellini has gone through the motions of "opening up" the play with the mandatory exterior scenes (as opposed to his wise refusal to dilute the claustrophobia of Cocteau's La Voix humaine ), the majority of shots are boringly static. Unlike the brooding long takes that deepen the vision of so many of his other films, here the camera simply shoots straight ahead, for the most part, in standard two-shots that suggest little more than a play being recorded on film. Yet even the very flatness of the camera work seems appropriate, and if the actual experience of sitting through the film is visually unexciting, in retrospect one can understand that, perversely, it all fits. There is also a scene with Adriano and Mimosa that takes place on a deserted beach at night in which the completely unconvincing set takes on a ghostly suggestivity. Interestingly, the set was not a studio reconstruction, but was done entirely with mirrors. The director confessed to Baldelli and his students that he was pleased in a way that they thought it had been done in a studio: "Well, that consoles me. It was all done with mirrors, becaused I was obsessed with them at the time, trying to free myself. I was trying to use anything I could, even this form of prostitution."[5]

Another noteworthy feature of Anima nera is that, while Fellini's and Antonioni's films are clearly being recycled—especially in the frenetic, jazzy score that scrapes the nerves, the blank walls of alienating urban architecture, and the tired striptease of the nightclub scene (which the stripper plays directly to the camera, thus implicating the male viewer the way he is implicated by the young girl's direct gaze at the end of La dolce vita )—Rossellini's film is in some


ways even closer, in its cultural critique, to Godard's work during this period. For example, it opens with a collage of still photographs of traffic scenes in Rome, displaying the cacophonic juxtaposition of the old and the new, over which the credits are superimposed while the jazz score blares. The first thing we hear in the story itself is the visceral, ripping sound of cars and trucks screaming through the night at high speed, a kind of perverse mirror image of the opening of Voyage to Italy . High beams flick off and on in a disturbing, surreal vision that suggests giant, atavistic beasts prowling an ancient earth. Trapped in their car and in their banal conversation, Adriano and Marcella are completely unaware of the historically rich monuments of Pisa, now transformed to tourist "sights," passing over them unnoticed, reflected on the windshield (a motif that is clearly related to Rossellini's, and Godard's, ironic use of classical sculpture in several earlier films). When they stop along the way to eat at a restaurant, a long take pins them in the lower right-hand corner of the frame, and we see as much of the annoying, alienating bustle of the restaurant as we do of them.

As in Godard's work of the early sixties, traffic is everywhere in this movie, from beginning to end. Televisions announce musical themes from the state-controlled news programs. Jackhammers rip up streets, and new apartment buildings, one uglier than the next, sprout up almost before our eyes. In this way, Rossellini mounts a full-scale assault on the spectators' nerves that goes beyond the harsh visuals of Antonioni, whose relatively empty sound track generally works in counterpoint, encouraging contemplation. The similiarity with Godard continues when Adriano's former girlfriend Mimosa is seen on the balcony in a very long take doing "nothing," thus anticipating the protagonists of Une femme mariée and Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle . What they all see is the wasteland of the bourgeois dream of the good life. Similarly, appliances reign supreme over people, and Marcella can think only of the latest domestic conveniences that will fill their apartment. Visual artifacts in the frame comment as well, as they do in Godard, and as the characters leave the thoroughly depressing nightclub scene, they pass a De Chirico reproduction that underlines the emptiness of what the characters take to be modern life.

Money is the film's obsessive topic of conversation, and it pervades every relationship. Again, Rossellini is examining the couple—but now both the man and the woman are so thoroughly drenched in the false values of modern civilization that the director seems barely able to stand either one of them. Marcella is seen as a pretty-faced, but empty-headed, product of a sterile bourgeois culture. Adriano, it is true, has more animal vitality than anyone else in the film and occupies a strategic emotional position as the central point of view, but he is finally no more sympathetic than the superficial Marcella. He has had to claw his way up from the poorest classes, he tells Mimosa, through deeds that would scandalize his middle-class wife. In spite of his problems, however, we are unable to feel sorry for him.

Nevertheless, in some small ways the film does favor the compromised, but full-blooded, figures of Adriano and Mimosa, especially in its haunting final scene, which is not part of the original play. Having successfully gotten rid of Mimosa, her only rival for Adriano's affections, Marcella undertakes to reform


him. She wants him to give up his claim to the villa, in the name of morality, even though we have since found out that he did not trick his homosexual friend into giving it to him. It will be "good" for him, she says. But Adriano, exhausted from the continuous effort merely to survive, can barely understand what she is talking about. It is here, in this final scene, that the film begins to take on some weight. The final shot begins tight on Marcella's face as she goes on and on about living more "simple," more "normal" lives, being just two "banal persons." The camera zooms or dollies back (probably zooms; it is difficult to tell in the interiors), to reveal a large empty space to Marcella's right (screen left) that isolates her and suggests spatially the emptiness of her bourgeois aspirations. The ever-widening shot finally includes Adriano, barely listening, as he peers out through the window, away from her, his face pushed up against the glass. He looks utterly devastated at his realization of the price he will have to pay for respectability. The two characters are divided compositionally by the frame of the French window that intrudes between them. Construction noises from outside combine with the resurging harsh jazz score to drown out her words, further underlining their total superfluity. The camera then begins moving back in, closer on Adriano's horror-stricken face, as Marcella, still talking, is gradually cut out of the frame. The sound track becomes rich with symbolic sound: a baby cries throughout this final movement of the camera, and the ripping noise of truck traffic that occupied the very beginning of the film now nastily reasserts itself. At the end of the shot, the camera is tight on Adriano's face. His hand is stretched out on the glass in front of him, almost as if in protection, as he moves his eyes desperately to and fro, shaking his head yes to words we can no longer hear. At this point, the film ends.

In spite of the power of this last sequence, however, nothing in the rest of the film attempts to build any sustained sympathy for Adriano. Furthermore, his treatment of all the women in the film (his wife, Mimosa, and a business associate he has strung along for her interest-free financial support of his used-car dealership), as in Patroni Griffi's play, is brutish. Rossellini has also added a particularly unpleasant scene in which Adriano physically forces Mimosa to leave her female dinner partner at a restaurant to go and commiserate with him over his problems. If in Stromboli we are continuously prevented from identifying moral or emotional right exclusively with either the man or the woman, here we are unable to identify with either because we cannot decide which one is less dislikable.

Part of the problem comes from the source material, Patroni Griffi's play, for the playwright seems to have even less sympathy for his characters than Rossellini does. He gives each of them annoying, petty tics (Adriano always stops to comb his hair, for example, every time he passes a shiny surface), which make their words seem even more selfish and reprehensible. These tics are wisely omitted in Rossellini's version. More important, almost all the unconvincing, sleazy sexual innuendo comes from the play. Adriano, we learn, was a deserter during the war who was rescued from execution by the Nazis by an S.S. officer with "a pair of gold glasses." He says: "Oh, I'm the kind who always knows what he's doing, but everything happens to me as if I were some kind of lost


soul. . . . You know I don't like to talk about myself, or else I'd have to admit that if I'm alive I owe it to the love of a German. . . . They killed him on the Via Rasella with the others: the night before he had let me escape."[6]

In the film, unsurprisingly, the word love is omitted from this speech, and the line goes: "If I'm alive, I owe it to a German." The homosexual implication is still present, of course, but less overtly. Alessandra, the sister of Adriano's more recent homosexual friend, we also discover, is a lesbian who was attracted in the past to Mimosa. The motif of homosexuality is used in both the play and the film in a manner unfortunately little advanced from Open City and Germany, Year Zero: it is the marker or sign of corruption, a locus of evil. Then it signified Nazi corruption, now the corruption of a materialistic society.

Aside from some minor scene additions and a somewhat different chronology of events, there are other intriguing differences between the play and the film version. Patroni Griffi's play is somewhat stylized, for one thing, in that action on two different sets sometimes occurs at the same time. In the film, Rossellini must necessarily make the action more linear and logical, befitting the exigencies of the commercial cinema. Other changes, probably originally motivated by the necessity of more exterior shots for the film adaptation, also attempt to add an extra "metaphysical" resonance decidedly alien to the play. Thus, during the scene on the beach, Adriano helps some people whose car has become stuck in the mud. Later, as he and Mimosa are returning from the beach, they pass the wreckage of an automobile in which everybody has clearly been killed. It is the car of the people he had helped earlier. We watch, horrified, as a policeman vainly tries to cover a body with sheets of newspaper that keep blowing away; the very futility of his gesture adds to the poignancy of the moment. We recognize again, as in the climax of Voyage to Italy , the brevity and uncertainty of life. If the sentiment in Anima nera is only a weak reflection of the film of ten years earlier, it does have the distinction of being subtly underplayed, offered in a few seconds, and casually tossed away.

Anima nera is far from worthless. It seems more a case of opportunities missed through laziness and lack of interest. This is what has bothered most critics of this film, I think: Rossellini is no longer taking the trouble to hide his disgust with the whole process of commercial filmmaking. He is only going through the motions.



Anima nera was to be Rossellini's last full-length commercial film and, as we have seen, his lack of interest and deep cynicism are everywhere apparent in it. There was to be one more small effort in this direction, the short sketch "Illibatezza" (Chastity), the opening segment in the group film called Rogopag (1962). Though the sketch unfortunately shares the somewhat whining pop-psychological themes of Anima nera , it manages to transcend them at the same time. For one thing, it is mercifully cast in the tones of comedy, and thus, as in the earlier Dov'è la libertà? , the themes are simultaneously offered and made fun of. In fact, despite the creative difficulties of this period, "Illibatezza" represented almost the perfect situation for Rossellini: it is commercial filmmaking, of course, but because the other segments of the film could carry the burdens of the box office, Rossellini was free to indulge himself, to experiment, and even to comment self-reflexively on the whole filmmaking process. In this way, the sketch hearkens back to that other "playful," yet significant, piece of ten years earlier, the "Ingrid Bergman" sequence of Siamo donne . Rossellini would have insisted, of course, that both sketches were totally frivolous. Yet it is perhaps through this willed frivolity that certain ongoing aesthetic and epistemological themes can more easily surface.

The film's title, Rogopag , derives from the initials of the four directors involved: Rossellini, Godard, Pasolini, and Ugo Gregoretti. (Pasolini's segment, "La ricotta," caused the film to be banned initially; it was rereleased a short time later under the title Laviamoci il cervello [Let's Wash Our Brains].) The extent of Rossellini's disaffection with the cinema can be gauged by the film's opening title: "Four stories by four writers who confine themselves to recount-


ing the gay beginning of the end of the world." Nothing, of course, could have been further than this silly, "sophisticated" tone from what Rossellini was saying in interviews at the time. Godard's episode. "The New World," is a bizarre, rather cryptic science-fiction piece set in a Paris over which an atomic explosion has just taken place. Gregoretti's sketch, "The Scratching Chicken," easily the funniest of the four, satirizes the effect of subliminal advertising in a grossly consumerist society. Pasolini's important, openly blasphemous episode features Orson Welles as a stand-in for himself—Welles even reads from Pasolini's book Mamma Roma —a director who is trying to film a crucifixion scene. In true Pasolini fashion, boys go off into the woods with one another, but a serious social point is made as well, through an offbeat humor that suddenly turns into bitter parody.

Rossellini's sequence is, on the surface, the least interesting of the four. It tells the story of Anna Maria, a beautiful, yet sweet and innocent, flight attendant for Alitalia who films all of her travels for her boyfriend back home in Italy. During a flight to Bangkok, a dumpy, middle-aged American salesman (named Joe, of course) falls in love with her and, after they land, follows her everywhere. Anna Maria calls her boyfriend to ask what to do, and he in turn consults a psychiatrist friend who says she must feign a complete role change, becoming a vamp, so that the American will lose interest. Totally frustrated by Anna Maria's new personality, the American is left only with the films he had earlier taken of the young woman while she was still in her "virginal" state. As the segment ends, he is wildly and unsuccessfully trying to grasp and hold on to her film image, which plays across his chest.

The pop-psychological tone that relates "Illibatezza" to Anima nera is overtly (and, one hopes, comically) stated in an opening quotation from the psychologist Albert Adler: "The man of today is frequently bothered by an indefinite anxiety and in his daily troubles, the unconscious suggests to him the refuge which protected and nourished him: the maternal womb. For this alienated man, even love becomes a search for a protective womb." (In fact, three of the four sequences of this film concern the unconscious in one way or another, and reflect the influence of the first truly extensive, mass popularization of Freud's ideas.) But the main object of ridicule in "Illibatezza" is the American, a figure who had become the Ugly American, once the initial benefits of the Marshall Plan had worn off. Their material needs satisfied by the famous "economic miracle" for the first time since the war, Italians could finally begin to see at what cost prosperity had been bought. The Ugly American of this film reads a Playboy article on big-busted women (reflecting an ongoing comic view of the American male as maternally fixated), denigrates local tradition and complains that the Asians are backward, studies How to Win Friends and Influence People , and explains with gusto the Miss Rheingold Contest to Anna Maria. For him, Miss Rheingold is the very image of the perfect, maternal woman, and soon enough these fantasies have been displaced onto the flight attendant.

The American tries his best to seduce Anna Maria, clumsily following her around various tourist sights of Bangkok, putting Dale Carnegie's rules into practice, but all to no avail. He has gotten himself into the eternal double bind of the maternally obsessed male: a truly pure girl next door is certainly not go-



Rosanna Schiaffino in a self-reflexive moment of "Illibatezza,"
an episode of Rogopag  (1962).

ing to be interested in cheating on her boyfriend. He does not give up easily, however, and in fact assails her with a surprising amount of emotional violence by begging, crying, cajoling, and finally, stealing her scarf. In a particularly annoying scene, he even descends to the level of physical assault, but when Anna Maria successfully resists, he turns back into the crying little boy she has to mother. The psychiatrist's strategy of changing her image finally works (Joe calls her a whore), but the Italian boyfriend is upset as well by her new personality.

A far more important theme of "Illibatezza," though also more clumsily ambiguous, concerns the cinematic representation of reality. Anna Maria tells Joe, "I photograph everything I do, my friends, all I see, so that [my boyfriend] can see my life when I'm far away." The effect of all this filming, of course, is that she never has the primary experience itself; we know that what we call experience is itself always a representation, but it is a representation that cannot be gotten beyond and thus in a way becomes basic. Anna Maria, however, concentrates solely on the second-level representation created by the lens of her movie camera. This theme also correlates with the pervasive American values being held up to scorn: Joe, as a specialist in advertising, is also a specialist in imagemaking (in both senses), and seeks profits by consciously manipulating reality.

As in La macchina ammazzacattivi , image making is foregrounded in the film


itself, especially in the sightseeing sequences in Bangkok. Anna Maria's camera films the important sights, which are simultaneously filmed, along with Anna Maria, by the director's camera, but these "sights" are only present by means of an obviously phony rear projection. Rossellini also constructs a temple setting whose statues and other huge objects are clearly made from giant photographic enlargements. The representations of representations pile up, to the third and fourth levels, and any hope of getting back to "real" reality is lost. But was there any hope of attaining it in the first place? What is important is that this slippage is inherent in the filmmaking process itself, and thus Rossellini includes himself in the general critique. It is this that Mario Verdone misses in his criticism of "Illibatezza" when he says, "Rossellini seems to want to believe in gimmicks from now on—which certainly wasn't the case at the time of Open City —and he is even capable, after the experiments of Vanina Vanini (remember the scenes in the Piazza del Popolo), to reconstitute his Siam in Rome."[1] Rossellini's point seems rather to be that filming is impossible without gimmicks and tricks, at least in the realistic commercial cinema as it is presently constituted. In the long run, then, it does not matter if Siam is reconstituted in Rome, for it would be a reconstitution even on the spot. In this minor sketch, I think, can be seen a summation of Rossellini's twenty-year-old dissatisfaction with the naive realist aesthetic of the neorealist movement.

When Anna Maria films Joe, she chides him for posing instead of acting natural. The psychiatrist agrees with Anna Maria's boyfriend that Joe is a sex maniac who, instead of contenting himself with the filmed representation, wants to get his hands on the real original. But where is this "original"? By this point in the sketch, vamp and virgin, copy and original, representation and reality are thoroughly jumbled. Joe can only project her image on his wall and futilely try to grasp the reality that is said to stand behind all representation. The paradox of representation, however, is that it always pushes further away precisely that which it attempts to re-present, and Joe finds this out the hard way.



Preferred Citation: Brunette, Peter. Roberto Rossellini. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1996 1996.