Francesco Rosi (1922-2015)

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La terra trema (Luchino Visconti 1948). The grandfather dies.

Yesterday, renowned Italian film director and screenwriter Francesco Rosi (Naples, November 15, 1922 – Rome, January 10, 2015) passed away. Rosi, who started out in Italian neorealism, was one of the most important politicised post-neorealist Italian filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s. For over two decades he was the critical consciousness of Italy.

Francesco Rosi started as assistant-director for e.g. Luchino Visconti (La terra trema, 1948; Bellissima, 1951; Senso, 1954) and as screenwriter. In 1952 he took over direction of the film Camicie Rosse when director Goffredo Allessandri was disabled after a car accident. His breakthrough came in 1958 with La sfida (The Challenge), a film about Camorra boss Pasquale Simonetti (José Suarez) and Pupetta Maresca (Rossana Schiaffino). The film shocked for its allusion to the mafia controlling the government. Also in his later films such as Salvatore Giuliano (1962), Le mani sulla città (Hands Over the City, 1963), Il caso Mattei (The Mattei Affair, 1972), Tre fratelli (Three Brothers, 1981), and Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli, 1979), based on Carlo Levi’s autobiographical novel, Rosi fiercely protested against a number of abuses in Italian society, either in the past or in contemporary times, or among Italian immigrants in Germany (I magliari/The Magliari, 1959). This social criticism was also present in his masterpiece Cadaveri eccellenti (1976), an adaptation of the novel Il contesto by Leonardo Sciascia. All this forced him to depart temporarily to Spain.

In the 1970s, Gian Maria Volonté was his regular actor, from the First World War drama Uomini contro (1970). Although Rosi filmed in unconventional locations and sometimes with unknown actors, he also made more conventional cinema such as the opera film Carmen (1984) with Placido Domingo and the Gabriel Garcia Marquez adaptation Cronaca di una morte annunciata (Chronicle of a Death Foretold, 1987) with, again, Volonté, plus Alain Delon and Ornella Muti. Later followed the thriller Dimenticare Palermo (The Palermo Connection, 1990), starring James Belushi and based on the Prix Goncourt winning novel by Edmonde Charles-Roux. Finally Rosi filmed the historical drama La Tregua (The Truce, 1997, based on the eponymous autobiographical by Primo Levi, told by Holocaust survivors returning from Auschwitz, and with John Turturro as Levi himself.

In 1962 Salvatore Giuliano won a Silver Bear for Best Director. Le mani sulla città won a Golden Lion in 1963. Il caso Mattei received in 1972 a Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival. Tre fratelli was nominated in 1982 for an Oscar. At the 2008 Berlin Film Festival Rosi was honored with a honorary Golden Bear. In 2010 Rosi won a lifetime Golden Leopard at the festival of Locarno and in 2012 a lifetime Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Personally, I had once briefly contact with Francesco Rosi during my research on Luchino Visconti. He told me modestly he had forgotten so much, I’d better ask someone else. Instead, I discovered at the Bibliothèque du Film (BiFi) of the Cinémathèque française four very detailed working registers by Rosi made during the sheer endless production of La terra trema. They were a wealth of details. Rosi kept four working registers for La terra trema. The first contains the entire daily schedule for everyone’s task, including Visconti himself. The second contains the bulletin: the record of all lenses to be used per shot, the focal length(s), the camera movements, the camera heights, the metrage of the used up negative, and the annotations. The third has the shooting script, in which each shot is described and narrated. Finally, the fourth register contains the continuity (the raccordi). Every shot was storyboarded so that each shot could be resumed immediately in case of interruptions (e.g., bad weather). Visconti had apparently learned from the bad weather that plagued the shooting of Une partie de campagne. The continuity described not only scenography and costumes but also gestures and actions. In short, Visconti maintained total control. Lino Miccichè also refers to these sources in his 1993volume in La terra trema. See also Anton Giulio Mancino, Il processo della verità. Le radici del film politico-indiziario italiano (2008) and Letizia Bellocchio, ‘Identificazione e straniamento in Ossessione e La terra trema’, in: Letizia Bellocchio, Mauro Giori, Tomaso Subini eds., Guarda bene, fratello, guarda bene. Kubrick, Pasolini, Visconti (2005), 53-67. Visconti had originally intended La terra trema as a trilogy on fishermen, miners, and farmers, but only the first episode was filmed. When discussing the never-filmed third episode of the massacre of the farmers at Portella della Ginestra by Salvatore Giuliano and his gang (1947) in La terra trema, Gianni Rondolino in his biography of Visconti (2006) refers to the end of Bertolucci’s Novecento (1976), to Russian revolutionary cinema, and to the painting by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo: Quarto stato (1901, Museo del Novecento, Milan), which functioned as opening image for Novecento. Francesco Rosi, assistant-director, reworked the episode in his own film Salvatore Giuliano (1962), and shot it in 1961 on the exact location.

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Salvatore Giuliano (1962)

~ by Ivo Blom on January 11, 2015.

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