people

Roberto Rossellini

Roberto Rossellini

A founder of Italian neorealism, Roberto Rossellini brought to filmmaking a documentary-like authenticity and a philosophical stringency. After making films under Mussolini’s fascist regime early in his career, Rossellini broke out with Rome Open City, a shattering and vivid chronicle of the Nazi occupation of Italy’s capital, followed by Paisan and Germany Year Zero, which round out his “war trilogy.” Rossellini’s adulterous affair with Ingrid Bergman led to the biggest controversy of his career (they were both condemned by the United States Senate) but also to another trilogy—Stromboli, Europa ’51, and Voyage to Italy, all starring Bergman and all about spiritual crises; they were dismissed at the time of their release but are widely praised now. Through the 1950s, Rossellini experimented with different forms, offering an ascetic religious film (The Flowers of St. Francis), a documentary about India (India), and a wartime melodrama that was one of his biggest hits (Il Generale Della Rovere). In the final phase of his career, after calling a news conference and announcing, “Cinema is dead,” Rossellini turned to historical television dramas about major subjects and figures (Louis XIV, Blaise Pascal, Descartes, the Medicis), made with a rational, almost scientific approach. As always, he yearned to show life’s minutiae unadorned, bare and pure. Echoes of Rossellini’s approach to filmmaking are still felt in movements around the world, from China to Iran to South America to the United States. It’s fair to say modern cinema wouldn’t exist as we know it without him.