The Rossellini Scandal

Image: Claudio Cretti / Jornal de Resenhas


Commentary on the work of the Italian filmmaker

Currently, the first misunderstanding around Rossellini is his popularity. Since 1947 none of his films have been successful at the box office or even, initially at least, critically. If her name has not been forgotten by the large number, it is only due to her romances with famous actresses. Everything that makes Roberto Rossellini one of the great men of our time is ignored by almost everyone and considered boring by many.

His name is often used for the taste of scandal, but what is truly scandalous about his behavior in relation to cinematic and other conventions is never underlined, that is, the pertinence, coherence and integrity with which he pursues his quest. .

The time has come to verify a beautiful and surprising fact: modern cinema has its Georges Bernanos or its León Bloy. And the association between Rossellini and the two great Christians of our day is not fortuitous. This mixture of humility and pride in the feeling of concreteness and eternity, as well as faith in freedom as something absolute, are some of the characteristics common to the aforementioned writers and the filmmaker. Through an ideological process in which pessimism and optimism are combined, the three believe that the world is ready to enter a new era; but at the same time they don't feel strong enough to indicate the solutions, the right paths. That's why they limit themselves to writing books or making films, otherwise they would jump into action, like prophets and reformers...

From this perspective, how would Rossellini's thought and work be reconciled with the usual notion of neorealism? In fact there is no harmonization possible. The worn and comfortable expression has, for Rossellini, a more difficult meaning. Generally speaking, neorealism is for him a moral position through which he contemplates and investigates the world; and practically means accompanying beings with love through all their impressions, discoveries, perplexities and vicissitudes, simultaneously evoking the contemporaneity and eternity of the human.

Rossellini was successful while his search and his testimony were confused with the chronicle of our time, as in Rome Open City and Paisá. The description of struggles and sacrifices, still in everyone's memory, did not clearly show that, in these tapes, especially in the second, the meaning of everyday reality was already extended to a perplexed contemplation of the tragedy of men. In Germany Year Zero the nature of the combat was different, and spectators found it difficult to follow Edmund's wanderings through the ruins of Berlin, until his suicide. The death of this child and that of Europe 51 cannot fail to recall the disappearance of Marco Romano Rossellini at the age of nine, in 1947.

This dramatic event in the filmmaker's life certainly precipitated his tendency not to subordinate the search for the human to a framework in the historical chronicle or in the cataloged social fact.

Before Germany Year Zero, Rossellini had filmed Anna Magnani in a monologue by Cocteau, The Voix Humaine, chronicle of the suffering of the aged and abandoned lover. This forty-minute tape, not being able to fit into the commercial guidelines, the filmmaker tried to make, right after the German experience, another episode that would make up the required footage, and asked his assistants for ideas.

Frederico Fellini, his collaborator since Rome Open City, suggested a scheme, which Rossellini turned into II Miracolo. A peasant woman, poor in spirit but full of faith, meets a vagabond in the mountains, where she was guarding a herd of goats, whom she takes for Saint Joseph. The stranger gives her wine until she becomes inconsistent, and takes advantage of the situation. Upon awakening, the madwoman is alone and happy with the appearance of Saint Joseph, who no longer knows if it occurred in a dream or in reality. When the pregnancy is revealed, she is vilified by the whole village, but she considers herself fertilized by the divine spirit. And the birth of the child, the fruit of that miracle, is a mixture of pain, maternal joy and triumphant hallelujah.

Between The love, generic title given to the two episodes, and Francesco Giullare di Dio, there are two films – La Macchina Ammazzacattivi and Stromboli, Terra di Dio – which I never had occasion to see. I do not know the exact circumstances that led Rossellini to cinematographically use some Foils, but the passage from the episode of the convent of paisa, to the adventures of Francesco and Ginepro, through the madness of The love. In all three cases, what stands out is the immense power of communication that authenticity can acquire, even in its most humble expressions, even within the area where innocence is confused with alienation.

The shades of mysticism that were outlined in Rossellini's work made him suspicious of communist clericalism, which until more or less 1950 had a powerful influence on Italian film criticism. Misunderstood by the communists for these reasons, it would seem theoretically normal that, in other sectors, among Catholics, for example, he would find a better reception. However, religious clericalism did not prove to be more sensitive than political clericalism. The pure, profound and poetic religiosity of II Miracolo, was considered an abominable blasphemy, and the divine spark in the everyday, albeit strange, simplicity of Francesco and his friends was not recognized.

There was nothing, in the human depth or the religious authenticity of Francesco, Giullare de Dio, which could shock Catholics or Communists, but prejudices prevailed, which contributed a lot to the total coldness with which one of the most beautiful tapes made during the last twenty years was received. Communists and Catholics were unfair to Francesco, Giullare di Dio, but insightful of Rossellini's deep feelings. The proof was the following film, Europe 51, in which the tendency of his thinking was to pull men out of conformism, good conscience and the intellectual comfort of the Church and the Party.

During the performance of Francesco, Rossellini explained to Fabrizi, who played the tyrant Nicolau, what the Foils. After listening attentively, the actor expressed his conclusion without hesitation: Saint Francis of Assisi was a madman. On the same occasion, a psychiatrist in Rome had told Rossellini about a curious episode that had occurred with one of his patients, a prosperous businessman from Piazza Venezia. One day he had a crisis of conscience and began to sell his merchandise at real value, trying to enlighten customers about the quality and insisting above all on its defects.

This was already seeming quite strange to the merchant's family and clientele, when he decided to go to the police to accuse himself of all the minor infractions of the Code, which every citizen normally practices and in which the law is not interested, except in the rare cases of a direct complaint. At that point, no one had any more doubts, and the man was admitted to a specialized clinic. The psychiatrist, after examining the merchant, was convinced that he stir fry just a moral crisis. The doctor was perplexed, and the solution he found was to dissociate the human being from the professional, verifying that the patient acted differently than the average, and opting for his hospitalization.

The case deeply disturbed Rossellini who, at the same time, was reading Simone Weil, that very contemporary mystic who, even in 1935, was active in small Trotskyist or anarchist groups in Paris, and then lived the experience of the working-class condition. Fabrizi's opinion on San Francisco, the Roman psychiatrist's account and Simone Weil's reading were the origins of Europe 51. Irene's story is one of the difficulties an authentic creature encounters in the modern world, the serious ruptures it demands, the proximity between human integration and declassification. As the woman she becomes does not enter the current picture, she is definitively alienated by an implicit agreement between a priest, a communist, the Family, the State and Science. The only valve of protest left for humility is to consider it holy.

Like Irene's, Rossellini lovingly followed Katherine's adventure in trip to Italy. Here, the obstacles to be overcome were much more subtle, and authenticity was sought, that of relations between man and woman. Never, as in this tape – where the subject is nothing more than a tenuous thread – do we find all of Rossellini's metaphysical and moral problematics, so concrete and invisible at the same time. And it was not by chance that he wanted to place the action in Naples, a city that he considered, before discovering India, as the place in the world where there was greater integration between everyday life and the real and immediate feeling of eternal life.

The presence of a man with such concerns and perspectives would per se a permanent scandal in the world of film production. But that's not all. Rossellini's moral attitude becomes an aesthetic fact, and here too he does not play according to conventional rules. But that would be the subject of another article.

*Paulo Emilio Sales Gomes (1916-1977) was founder of the Cinemateca Brasileira, professor at UnB and USP. Author, among other books, of Jean vigo (Senac/CosacNaify).

Originally published on literary supplement from the newspaper The State of S. Paul, on September 20, 1958.


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