If you were to put together a list of the great auteur directors whose films most directly engage with the Christian faith, the list would certainly include Robert Bresson, Andrei Tarkovsky, Karl Theodor Dreyer, probably Krystof Kieslowski, and – if your tastes run to a distinctly nordic brand of angst and doubt – Ingmar Bergman. Two others who should probably be included are Ermanno Olmi and Roberto Rossellini. Herman will have to wait his turn – you'll search in vain for copies of GENESIS: CREATION AND FLOOD or CAMMINA, CAMMINA, a retelling of the magi's journey to visit the infant Jesus – but Bob is beginning to re-emerge into the flickering light of Christian cinephile awareness.
New York's Museum of Modern Art got there first, including more films by Rossellini than by any other director in their "Hidden God: Faith & Film" series a couple of years back, showing FLOWERS OF ST FRANCIS, L'AMORE and VOYAGE TO ITALY. When the curators approached a wide range of film writers to submit essays for inclusion in the book which accompanied the exhibition, Rossellini was the most-requested filmmaker: in addition to the titles shown in the retrospective, still more Rossellini films were covered in the anthology: STOMBOLI, EUROPA 51, and LA RICOTTA.
Folks at the annual Cornerstone festival weren't far behind, making the Italian auteur a main focus of this year's Flickerings series, showing GERMANY YEAR ZERO, ROMAGNA (an excerpt from the film PAISAN, a 1947 film anthology about the Allied advance up italy: in Rossellini's contribution a monastery, isolated from the war, is visited by three war-weary US Army chaplains), FLOWERS OF ST FRANCIS, THE MIRACLE (part of L'AMORE, in which a simple peasant girl receives a visitation from someone she belives is St Joseph that changes her forever), EUROPA 51, STROMBOLI and VOYAGE TO ITALY. Wow.
Next up is a major retrospective on the filmmaker which will run at Cinematheque Ontario from Oct 6 to Dec 7. Organized by James Quandt, the series is slated to make its way to Los Angeles and New York next year - whether it will ever reach vancouver remains to be seen. For now, we'll just have to enjoy the catalog, and try to restrain our envy...
From Quandt's essay:
"His anti-orthodoxy makes it difficult to pin down his political or religious beliefs. Like Bresson, he was positioned as a Catholic director, though Franciscan in spirit rather than Jansenist, and again like Bresson, made various and conflicting statements about his faith. He emphasized, for instance, that THE MIRACLE, condemned by Cardinal Spellman, was "an absolutely Catholic work. I found my inspiration for it in a sermon by Saint Bernardino of Siena." Many of his films are about spiritual struggle and transformation, with central characters whose via is invariably dolorosa. Rohmer claimed that "even in his most profane subjects he is the most, perhaps the sole, indisputably religious author that cinema, that the entire art of the twentieth century has known," but Rossellini himself told Jacques Grant at the end of 1975 after making THE MESSIAH, "I am a complete atheist." One could catalogue many similar contradictions in the life and career of this most complex of directors, such as the disparity between his fine, generous sensibility and the shorthand he sometimes relied on to characterize his villains, but it is simpler to quote the artist himself in a statement that feels like a credo: "In making GERMANY YEAR ZERO my goal was the same as in all work I undertake. I wanted to reproduce the truth exactly as the camera saw it for that audience throughout the entire world which has a heart capable of love and a brain capable of thought." And so it is for a contemporary audience looking back at Rossellini's formidable body of work. As one character sings in GIOVANNA D'ARCO AL ROGO: "Prepare your hearts for the mysteries that will unfold."
Making the Rossellini Retrospective
By James Quandt
I have often been asked why, when the Cinematheque Ontario has presented major retrospectives of many of the important Italian directors (Visconti, Pasolini, Antonioni, De Sica, Rosi, Olmi, Fellini, Bertolucci, Germi, Moretti, Zurlini et al.), often in new or restored prints, we have never shown more than a handful of films of Roberto Rossellini, perhaps the greatest of them all, and those in less than pristine condition. The answer is simple: a Rossellini retrospective is impossible. My many attempts over the past twenty years to organize a retrospective of Rossellini's films, which I dearly love and highly prize, have all foundered. The reasons are many and complicated, involving legal and copyright problems, the sheer immensity of his oeuvre, the varying versions of many of Rossellini's films, the poor state of preservation of elements and prints, the lack of interest (commercial and otherwise) in anything beyond his half dozen famous works. Rossellini's centenary year provided both the impetus and the challenge to finally accomplish this daunting task, but even then such an important anniversary did little to alleviate the problems; there were one or two restorations, for which we are most grateful, but no rush to stop the slow "drip into oblivion" of his work about which his daughter Isabella has written so movingly. "My Dad's films [are] fading away," she contends in her recent book, In the Name of the Father, the Daughter, and the Holy Spirits; "My father is slowly being forgotten." This vast act of rememberance is more crucial than ever.
If a Rossellini retrospective is impossible, why, then, have there been recent ones in Madrid and Paris, and now in Toronto and New York? (London and Los Angeles follow in 2007.) I cannot speak for the other venues, but for the Cinematheque Ontario, the "now or never" impulse of the Rossellini centenary led to new determination. The gracious aegis and enthusiastic support of Isabella Rossellini was a prod to completion, and the unstinting advice and assistance of Rossellini authority Tag Gallagher was also a boon Knowing that we may have to wait years, perhaps forever, for essential restoration work, we have reluctantly accepted some inferior prints; for instance, Rossellini made most of his late films in notoriously unstable Eastmancolor and the prints of many of the late historical works have "shifted" in color. (Think pink.) Other factors turned out more favorably Several loans which had long been refused were granted. Some new prints were made--that of VANINA VANINI is very beautiful--while ones thought irretrievable turned up unexpectedly (a full-length ERA NOTTE A ROMA, for example). Materials have been gathered from many countries--Spain, Germany, England, Australia, Italy, France, the United States--from archives, private collectors, foundations, and Rossellini specialists. In a couple of cases, we have had to rely on that last resort: showing extremely rare works for which there are no showable prints on DVD (of superb quality).
Because many of Rossellini's films were never translated in to English, Cinematheque Ontario and the National Film Theatre in London have undertaken, in conjunction with the Cioneteca Nazionale in Rome, to prepare electronic subtitling for several prints. Our audience which has been accustomed to--dare one say spoiled by?--the many retrospectives we have presented in new or restored prints should be advised that this is an imperfect, traditionally "cinematheque-style" retrospective, with materials whose rarity sometimes exceeds physical quality. Equally, the audience should be aware that, with the comprehensive Godard retrospective we presented in 2001-2002 and the complete Bresson retrospective we organized and toured in 1998, this has been the most arduous series we have ever prepared. This will be your only opportunity to see many of these films, which have become legendary in their absence.
* * * *
October 20 -- And Evening with Isabella Rossellini
MY DAD IS 100 YEARTS OLD (2005) 16 min
THE CHICKEN aka INGRID BERGMAN (1953) 17 min
SANTA BRIGADA (1951) 9 min
BRIEF ENCOUNTER WITH THE ROSSELLINI FAMILY (1953) 5 min
MED INGRID BERGMAN PA BERNS (1953) 6 min
VOYAGE IN ITALY
GERMANY, YEAR ZERO
October 31 & November 5
Lecture Series: Tag Gallagher on FRANCIS, GOD'S JESTER and Rossellini as Romantic
November 3 & 4
ROME OPEN CITY (Restored 35mm print)
INDIA, MOTHER LAND
PAISAN (Restored 35mm print)
VANINA VANINI (Restored 35mm print)
ONCE UPON A TIME...ROME OPEN CITY (2006)
ROSSELLINI UNDER THE VOLCANO (1997)
Lecture Series: Peter Brunette on THE MACHINE TO KILL BAD PEOPLE
A PILOT RETURNS
THE BULLYING TURKEY
THE MAN OF THE CROSS
ERA NOTTE A ROMA (Full length version)
DOV'E LA LIBERTA...?
LOVE: DUE STORIE D'AMORE
AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO
FEAR aka ANGST
THE WHITE SHIP
GENERAL DELLA ROVERE
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
GIOVANA D'ARCO AL ROGO
THE AGE OF THE MEDICI
December 4 & December 9
THE RISE TO POWER OF LOUIS XIV (Restored 35mm print)
ITALY: YEAR ONE
BEABOURG, LE CENTRE GEORGES POMPIDOU (Free screening)
ROSSELLINI AT RICE UNIVERSITY
THE MESSIAH (Rare 35mm print)