Italy during World War II was a dark period for Italian policy, and an even
darker one for the future of Italian cinema. As the battlefield took over
Italy, Cinecittà, their version of Hollywood, was shut down. By 1944, the
studio had stopped film production altogether and was instead used as a refugee
camp for Italians who fled the south. Since the compound at Cinecittà housed
most of Italy’s movie sets and sound stages, the country’s filmmakers were left
with nothing. So, what did director, Roberto Rossellini do? He took his cameras
to the streets to document the human suffering of post-war Italy, and
neorealism was born.
is a style of filmmaking that uses real life situations and mostly untrained
actors to tell character-driven stories that do not rely on special effects,
formatted scripts or complicated camera angles. The director does not
manipulate the audience. The characters do with their eyes, their struggles and
their emotions as they are on a constant journey searching for the truth.
Rossellini’s first documented attempt using this new technique was a film
called "Roma, citta apertà". The film showed the terror of Rome under
German occupation. Rossellini was not trying to start a new style of filmmaking.
It was just his way to work outside the studio as Cinecittà was out of
commission. However, a new style was indeed born and all of Rossellini’s work
that followed carried the same theme of truth. He felt that reality was far
more interesting than fictitious, contrived stories. It seemed like he made a
career out of separating himself from artists and in a way, considered himself
more of a documentary director than a movie director. Rossellini used the
camera as eyes, the eyes of the desperate characters that felt defeated by the
economic crisis following World War II. His films told the story of the
civilian and showed the way people suffered.
post-war trilogy of neorealistic films includes "Roma, città aperta",
"Paisa" and "Germania anno zero". The films were not
commercial successes at first and critics were harsh in their reviews. However,
Rossellini stayed true to his vision because the call to make films the way he
wanted to, with an unyielding sense of truth and reality, was stronger than
him. In the end, he gave up fiction all together and just made documentaries.
In 2005, the director's daughter, Isabella Rossellini, held a screening at the
Dryden Theater at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.There, she paid tribute to her father who
would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. To mark the occasion,
Isabella made a 14-minute film about her father and his contribution to Italian
cinema. "My Dad in 100 Years Old" features a cast of characters who
played important roles in her father's life and career. Among those characters
are Federico Fellini, Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and Roberto Rossellini's
longtime love, Ingrid Bergman. Isabella said that part of the reason why she
made the film was to express the complication of having a father who was also a
genius. In the film, her father was represented as a large belly that wiggled
as he spoke. There was no face, only a chest and stomach. The choice to portray
her father in such a way sparked public criticism from her sister. However,
Isabella defended her choice, saying that when she was a child, she rested her
head on her father's belly, and the thought still gave her a sense of
comfort.She also found the belly funny
and wanted to add a bit of comedy to the film.
Rossellini was a true artist in the sense that he didn't see himself as an
artist and considered the integrity of his subjects more important than the
commercial success of his films.