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

26— "Illibatezza" (1962)


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.


26— "Illibatezza" (1962)

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