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Roberto Rossellini, The Director and the Man, in Film and Photography at the Museum of Modern Art
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Roberto Rossellini, The Director and the Man, in Film and Photography at the Museum of Modern Art

- In the Galleries / Backstage with the Filmmakers

Film and Photo Retrospective
Of Roberto Rossellini
In Collaboration with Cinecittà Holding
And Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia
(Link to Rossellini Screenings)
(More about Rossellini)
(Rossellini on Paper)
At the
Museum of Modern Art
(MOMA Website)
11 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 27, 2006 - December 10, 2006

(See MOMA Jazz Interlude Gala Review)

Roberto Rossellini, born in Rome in May 1906, was a controversial and innovative, Post World War II film director. His Neo-Realistic style used non-actors in natural roles, with a “pure, aggressive” camera. He filmed many topics and genres, including war, science, documentary, history, romance, relationships, religion, fantasy, comedy, satire, and more. Rossellini’s father had built the first Roman cinema, and in 1938 Rossellini produced his first film. He filmed trilogies on Fascism, and he was fond of starring his lover (Anna Magnani), his wife (Ingrid Bergman), and the land of his newly discovered object of desire (India).

Roberto Rossellini’s life was replete with chaos, family turmoil, multiple divorces, court battles, and international scandal. In fact, for a time, his films were banned in American cities, due to his notorious, extra-marital affair with Ingrid Bergman, while filming Stromboli, Terra di Dio (1949), on the edge of a volcano. Rossellini was three times married and created media frenzy through and beyond each relationship. Many of his films reflect, in cast, setting, or mood, each period of his life. During his first marriage, to Marcella de Marchis, he was involved with the passionate actress, Anna Magnani. Ingrid Bergman, herself married to a California surgeon, and mother of Pia Lindstrom, actress, filmmaker, and critic, sent a letter of introduction to Rossellini, after seeing Rome, Open City (1945) and Paisan (1946). She was recruited to spend three months filming in Stromboli, Italy, and, during the filmmaking, Ms. Bergman became pregnant with Robertino Rossellini. After numerous international legal disputes, both of their current marriages were dissolved, and they married by proxy in Mexico.

Rossellini and Bergman had three children, Robertino, and twin daughters Isabella and Isotta Ingrid. Isotta Ingrid is a college professor of Italian literature in New York. Isabella Rossellini, actress, model, and author, recently published In the Name of the Father, the Daughter, and the Holy Spirits, Remembering Roberto Rossellini. The book-signing event was celebrated at the renowned Rizzoli Bookstore on NYC’s West 57th Street, where copies can still be purchased. This book also includes a CD ROM of her film, My Dad Is 100 Years Old, for the centennial of Rossellini’s birth. The film is directed by Guy Maddin, written by Isabella, and produced by Jody Shapiro. Isabella plays the roles of Selznick, Fellini, Hitchcock, Chaplin, and her mother, Ingrid Bergman. She is filmed as if swimming underwater and flying with feathery wings. There are many allusions to Rossellini’s emotions, thoughts, friends, family, and films. There are even numerous shots of Rossellini’s imagined big belly. His rotund body is the metaphor for his warmth and love.

Roberto Rossellini went on to marry Sonali Das Gupta, an Indian film assistant, whom he met on location in India, while filming India Matri Buhmi (1958), at the invitation of Jawaharlal Nehru, who wanted to enrich the Indian films division, thereby ending the Rossellini-Bergman marriage. Ms. Bergman re-married, as well, to Lars Schmidt, but that marriage resulted in her third divorce. Ms. Bergman died on her birthday in 1982 of breast cancer. Mr. Rossellini died in 1977 of a heart attack. (Assistance from various research archives.)
A comprehensive display of photographs, many from the Wesleyan University Archives, can be seen at the Museum of Modern Art in the hallway walls, approaching the downstairs theatres.

On display are numerous black-white photos of Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman alone, with their children, with unidentified friends, with a lawyer, and in production. Many of the photos are from the Wesleyan University Archives, with other photos or posters from the Martin Scorsese collection. There are 1959-60 color posters of Viva L’Italia and Il General della Rovere, plus black-white photos from the production of Joan of Arc. A giant 1974 poster of Anno Uno can be seen as well. Numerous production photos of Stromboli, a related letter to Howard Hughes from Rossellini about anticipated audience acceptance of this film, plus Stromboli posters are also spread throughout the exhibit. There are additional production stills of Fear, Europa 51, and Blaise Pascal, as well as rare posters of Desiderio, Paisa, and one large 1950 black-white poster Roberto Rossellini in New York.

Reviews of 7 Rossellini films, in order of viewing:

Desiderio (Desire) (1943-46), Italy, in Italian, Directed by Roberto Rossellini and Marcello Pagliero, Story by Anna Benevuti, Screenplay by Diego Calcagno, Music by Renzo Rossellini, Cinematography by Rodolfo Lombardi and Ugo Lombardi, Starring Elli Parvo, Massimo Girotti, Roswita Schmidt, Carlo Ninchi, Francesco Grandjacquet, Lia Corelli, and Jucci Kellerman. I was immediately struck with the dark, black/white cinematography, the haunting film score, and the understated passions, of love, desire, jealousy, and hatred, so clear, but so controlled. Rossellini had borrowed Visconti’s screenwriter, Giuseppe de Santis, and one of his stars, Massimo Girotti, but the War interrupted shooting, and Rossellini’s friend, Marcello Pagliero, completed the film.

An exquisitely stunning call girl (Elli Parvo) falls in love with Giovanni (Carlo Ninchi), a simple, generous man, a horticulturist, who nurtures plants and flowers in an expansive greenhouse. Unhealthy plants spring to life in his hands, as does the sad, deeply conflicted Paola, who yearns to tell him of her plight, but pretends that she is an unemployed seamstress. She decides to return home, rather than face embarrassing discovery, but the long, slow walk to a village in the Abruzzi mountains is for naught. Her father will not speak to her, shamed by her loose, lascivious lifestyle, and her sister (Roswita Schmidt) betrays her trust, once her brother-in-law, Nando (Massimo Girotti), unabashedly lusts for her, beyond discretion. Many of Rossellini’s films include an evil-eyed, scar-faced demon, and, in this case, Riccardo (Francesco Grandjacquet) fit the bill, as he, too, lusted for Paola and blackmailed her for a single night of sex in exchange for “secrecy”, as Giovanni the admirer turned into Giovanni the fiancé. Alas, Paola, overcome with explosive fear and shame, creates her own fate. The image of Giovanni finally arriving in town to “save” Paola from her past and present was spell-binding, as he passes a crowd of onlookers at the foot of a bridge and continues to town, with Riccardo’s devious directions, to meet the love of his life at the postal office.

The making of Desiderio would be a fascinating documentary, to be seen in all its incarnations, the original shots and takes by Rossellini, the two Paolas (the first was Oretta Fiume), and the directorial differences (Pagliero-Rossellini) in style and mood. Renzo Rossellini’s music, not omnipresent, as is Rossellini’s style, but there to lead your emotions, foreboding or revealing, is fine-tuned to his brother’s unique genre. Rossellini recruited non-actors for all minor roles and always shot directly on location, thus the Neo-Realistic technique.

La Paura: Die Angst (Fear) (1954), Germany/Italy, shot in English and German, Directed by Roberto Rossellini, Based on a book by Stefan Zweig (Angst), Screenplay by Rossellini, Sergio Amidei, and Franz Graf Treuberg, Music by Renzo Rossellini, Cinematography by Carlo Carlini and Heinz Schnackertz, Starring Ingrid Bergman, Matthias Wiemann, Renate Mannhardt, Kurt Kreuger, Elise Aulinger, and Steffi Stroux. Again, Renzo Rossellini’s music becomes intrinsic to the minds of the German characters and then to the mesmerized viewers. Ingrid Bergman stars in one final Rossellini film, presented in English, and adapted from the Stefan Zweig novel, Angst, prior to her marital breakup with Director Rossellini. He casts her as Irene Wagner, an incredibly controlled wife, full of torment, as she goes to great lengths to hide an extra-marital affair, with Erich (Kurt Kreuger), who seems colder and shallower than her husband, Albert Wagner (Matthias Wiemann).

Albert, who owns a pharmaceutical factory, with mice, test tubes, and experimental pain machines, has apparently been incarcerated in a prison camp, during which time Irene took a lover. Irene seems increasingly uncomfortable with this arrangement and attempts to disengage from the lover, while Albert seems increasingly distracted and distant. Rossellini is capable of illuminating the soul, of rendering his characters transparent to the viewer, while keeping them complacent in their hidden personas throughout the action. So many textures, so many layers. Albert hires an ex-lover (Renate Mannhardt) of Erich to blackmail, trail, stalk, and harass his wife, even giving her clues as to where Irene will be meeting him, as he pounces into their space, in the effort to keep Irene unguarded, running deeper into her fears. The stalker, Joanna, is sharp and piercing in her demeanor and speech. The scenes of Joanna glaring beyond the family window are disquieting. And, speaking of family, the children are kept in the country with a nurse, as the son receives a toy rifle as his gift.

This film could be seen multiple times, like Casablanca, another Bergman iconic film, as each scene has imagery that evolves within the moment. One memorable scene, in a grand theatre, has Irene and Albert in an elegant box, with Albert disappearing and Joanna entering on cue. Irene’s psychological suffocation becomes analogous to Albert’s medical experiments with mice, as Irene almost suffers the same scientific fate. Rossellini saves the music to sparingly drive the drama.

Viva L’Italia (Garibaldi) (1961), Italy, in Italian, Directed by Roberto Rossellini, Screenplay by Sergio Amidei, Rossellini, Antonio Petrucci, Carlo Alianello, Luigi Chiarini, Diego Fabbri, and Antonello Trombadori, Music by Renzo Rossellini, Cinematography by Luciano Trasatti, Costumes by Marcella De Marchis, Starring Renzo Ricci, Paolo Stoppa, Franco Interlenghi, Giovanna Ralli, Raimondo Croce, Tina Louise, Leone Botta, Giovanni Petrucci, and Attilio Dottesio.

This film, for the viewer not well schooled in the history of Southern Italy and the role of Garibaldi in the liberation of Sicily from the Bourbons, can still be appreciated for the visually sweeping battle scenes, the synchronized sound of military combat, the back-room political strategy dramas, the cultural references (Alexandre Dumas, friend of Garibaldi), and the languorous landscapes of Southern Italy. Giuseppe Garibaldi (Renzo Ricci) recruited 1,000 volunteers, called “Red Shirts”, and landed in Sicily in May 1860, adding groups of local rebels and defeating the 3,000 troop Bourbons, calling himself “Dictator of Sicily”. Garibaldi is depicted in this film as supremely handsome, macho, confident, brave, and determined. Garibaldi’s character is a colorful personality, showing human vulnerabilities and occasional trepidation, but never before his troops or the public. His officers, who don Red Shirts in admiration and pride, are equally courageous.

Beautiful women surround the soldiers, but only mild flirtation occurs within this 129 minute film. Even the lovely Tina Louise, a French journalist, does not distract Garibaldi from his missions. There are memorable scenes of citizens throwing furniture and bedding out the windows to assist Garibaldi’s soldiers in creating an improvised fort in the midst of a city square, with fire-ripped buildings and explosions and gunfire all about. In fact, there are long-shot battle scenes, juxtaposed with moving maps, as the viewer is taught Garibaldi’s routes and travails. Rossellini was absorbed in Italian history, religion, and science, and Viva L’Italia exemplifies his detailed knowledge and precise research. And, once again, Renzo Rossellini has created a magnificent score to match the tumultuous battles, on horse and on foot, in water and on terrain, in cities and on battlefields. Luciano Trasatti deserves recognition for sumptuous cinematography.

Era Notte a Roma (Blackout in Rome) (1960), Italy/France, shot in Italian, German, Russian, Directed by Roberto Rossellini, Screenplay by Sergio Amidei, Diego Fabbri, Brunello Rondi, and Rossellini, Music by Renzo Rossellini, Cinematography by Carlo Carlini, Starring Peter Baldwin, Laura Betti, Sergei Bondarchuk, Sergio Fantoni, Leo Genn, Hannes Messemer, Rosalba Neri, Giovanna Ralli, Enrico Maria Salerno, Renato Salvatori, and Paolo Stoppa. This Italian language film, set in war-torn Rome, involves the secret protection of three military officers, one American, Peter Bradley (Peter Baldwin), one Russian, Fyodor Nazukov (Sergei Bondarchuk), and one British, Michael Pemberton (Leo Genn). Their protector, Esperia (Giovanna Ralli), who buys and sells groceries and medicine in the black market, risks her very life and that of her fiancé, Renato (Renato Salvatori), and landlord. As they all await the liberation of Rome by the Allies, we see the action unfold within a dark, shadowy attic (with harrowing screeching rats), over the clay rooftops above winding, narrow streets, in even darker corners of a church, against the confessional, and in rear, angular chairs.

Esperia is admired and adored by the protected prisoners, and they create a festive Christmas out of ornaments, flowers, wine, and a gift of repaired cloth. An old harp, plaster figures, and boarded windows appear and disappear, depending on blackouts and time of day. This film includes the scarred, scary character, the stalker, who seems to infiltrate the Rossellini films, in many incarnations, and here he is Tarcisio (George Tetrarca), who silently lusts for the affianced Esperia and betrays her underground effort to the German occupiers. Tarcisio, a former Priest, is able to uncover further underground efforts, by quizzing Communist “traitors”, dressed as priests, who cannot answer questions about the scriptures, some in Latin, some in Italian.

The tension in the film derives from military reprisal, fear of betrayal, sheer physical, logistical, and psychological survival, and the repressed and tender love that emanates from the face and body language of Michael (who has just strangled a man with bare hands) toward Esperia, who remains in love with Renato, in life and in death. Esperia has lost the one person she needed and loved, all in the effort to be “Christian”, to save innocent soldiers, none of whom speak her language. In fact, some of the most interesting scenes involve attempts to communicate, prior to Michael’s self-taught Italian. Violence is off camera, as it should be, and physical connection is reduced to a casual kiss. Rossellini, as usual, keeps his characters controlled, with passions seething to the surface. Also, as usual, the most visual seething is seen in the most demonic, here Tarcisio. An aristocratic family, who formally dine in suits with butlers, have an intriguing scenario, as they, too, hide the prisoners temporarily.

Renzo Rossellini’s score pulsates and taunts, and Carlo Carlini’s cinematography carries us across the rooftops of Rome and into the interiors of closets. This is another film to be seen repeatedly for its multiple layers of meaning. Giovanna Ralli is an actress to be re-discovered for her strength and sensuality, while Leo Genn is a master at quietly revealing his character’s desire.

L’Amore ( Love) (1948), Italy, in Italian, Directed by Roberto Rossellini, Screenplay by Anna Benevuti, Jean Cocteau (play, La voix humaine), Federico Fellini (story, Il Miracolo), Tullio Pinelli, and Rossellini, Music by Joseph Kosma and Renzo Rossellini, Cinematography by Jean Bourgoin, Robert Juillard, Otello Martelli, Claude Renoir, and Aldo Tonti, Starring Anna Magnani, Sylvia Bataille, Lia Corelli, Federico Fellini, Gabrielle Fontan, Jucci Kellerman, Jane Marken, Elli Parvo, Amelia Robert, Odette Roger, Roswita Schmidt, and Annie Toinon.

L’Amore is divided into two sections, The Human Voice and The Miracle, with Cocteau’s solo script, starring Anna Magnani in both. Ms. Magnani creates, in the first and following sections, two of the most natural and realistic performances I have ever seen. This is an actor’s actor. Ms. Magnani is Cocteau’s creation in The Human Voice, a conflicted and rejected lover, whose five-year relationship has ended, due to another woman. These facts are only apparent if one listens carefully to the dialogue.

Ms. Magnani and a dog are in a dark, unkempt bedroom, and Ms. Magnani pleads for the lover to keep talking, while saving face and asking him to end the conversation. Only those of us who have experienced similar circumstances could presume to understand the double-meanings in her pleas. She even offers him the dog. Ms. Magnani cries, laughs, rambles, and occasionally listens. There is a man’s voice on the other end of the black-corded dial phone, but the only clear voice is Ms. Magnani’s. This is a round, voluptuous woman, one with sensuality, sexuality, and strength. There is nothing passive or prudish about this woman. Each time the phone disconnects, Ms. Magnani becomes distraught and desperate, yelling “Pronto” over and over until the lover’s voice is audible. Her pain is palpable.

In The Miracle Anna Magnani is a simple peasant, who collects twigs and brush from the mountains and walks with the sheep. Her clothes are torn, and her friends torment her for her lack of maturity and clarity. The renowned filmmaker, Federico Fellini, has written this section, and he acts, as well, the role of The Stranger, or, as Ms. Magnani believes him to be, St. Joseph. The Stranger, a handsome blond man with a walking stick, carries a jug of wine, and Ms. Magnani passes out from drink after drink. The Stranger takes advantage of her unconsciousness, and her subsequent pregnancy is considered foul and evil by the townspeople, although she believes in her immaculate conception. Her long walk to a church on a hill, and her lonely, painful childbirth are surreal and sensational. The character survives, through will and unflappable religion .

Vanina Vanini (The Betrayer) (1961), Italy/France, in Italian, Directed by Roberto Rossellini, after a novel by Stendhal, adapted by Franco Solinas and Antonello Trombadori, Screenplay by Diego Fabbri, Jean Gruault, and Rossellini, Music by Renzo Rossellini, Cinematography by Luciano Trasatti, Starring Sandra Milo, Laurent Terzieff, Martine Carol, Paolo Stoppa, Isabelle Corey, Antonio Pierfederici, Olimpia Cavalli, Nerio Bernardi, and Mimmo Poli.

I found this film to be the least engaging of the seven. An 1800’s princess, Vanina Vanini (Sandra Milo), falls in love with Pietro (Laurent Terzieff), an activist Freemason, whose cause is considered heretical and who is forbidden by the Church to conduct his rebel activities, including murderous revenge. There are bucolic scenes, in Romagna, where Vanina’s castle lies, and there are busy scenes in Rome, such as a formal ball of the waltzing wealthy. The impoverished Pietro, initially protected by Vanina’s father, seems to have little gratitude, so driven by his cause. In fact, when he learns of Vanina’s betrayal of trust, he beats her with chains. Yet, Vanina is also driven, but by pure lust, and, despite the differences in social, political, and religious standing, Vanina tosses all to the wind and purely begs Pietro to stay just on more night in her bedroom. The acting seemed forced and fragmented, with Mr. Terzieff in frozen poses and Ms. Milo in haughty hysterics.

The out-of-wedlock sexual relationship is soundly condemned by the Church, and one offer is made to save the two, that of Pietro’s renouncing his comrades and cause. He refuses, and both lovers meet their fate, one brave and the other pragmatic. There is a good deal of historical and ecclesiastical reference in the film, and, like so much of Rossellini’s oeuvre, advance research would be helpful. As it stands, Rossellini went on to produce numerous “teaching” films in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Il General della Rovere (General della Rovere) (1959), Italy/France, in Italian and German, Directed by Roberto Rossellini, Screenplay by Sergio Amidei, Diego Fabbri, Indro Montanelli, and Rossellini, Music by Renzo Rossellini, Cinematography by Carlo Carlini, Starring Vittorio De Sica, Hannes Messemer, Vittorio Caprioli, Nando Angelini, Herbert Fischer, Mary Greco, Bernardo Menicacci, Lucia Modugno, Luciano Pigozzi, Kurt Polter, Giuseppe Rosetti, Kurt Selge, Linda Veras, Sandra Milo, Giovanna Ralli, Anne Vernon, and Ester Carloni.

On a three-film-in-a-row day at MOMA, the final film needed to be gripping, and gripping it was. The 1959 black-white General della Rovere, set in mid-1940’s German-occupied Genoa, starred the charismatic and magnetic Vittorio de Sica as Bardone, a seductive gambler and imposter, who sells fake jewelry that’s already been rejected by prostitutes and jewelers to a female friend, who perceives his plight. He needs funds to pay gambling debt and to pay off the German officers, who are capable of imprisoning, torturing, and shooting. And, all three of these nightmares come to pass as this riveting film unfolds. De Sica takes on the persona of a secretly murdered General (General della Rovere) and goes to great lengths to conceal the fraud, in order to survive. Hannes Messemer, as the German, Colonel Mueller, is chillingly calculating, callous, and cruel. Just when you think he is warming to Bardone, he, instead, entraps him.

An inherent mystery about the identification of Fabrizio, whom the Germans badly want to snare, runs through the final segments of the film, and, in a soul-saving and patriotic switch of character, Bardone becomes the courageous character he so resolutely impersonates and meets his fate, as do so many Rossellini heroes. The promise of Swiss asylum, money, and eternal anonymity do not persuade Bardone to betray the cause of his fellow inmates, with whom he has now bonded and conspired. The Nazis’ sadistic and random torture and a pleading letter from della Rovere’s wife influence Bardone’s metamorphosis into the mindset of the deceased General. Vittorio Caprioli, as a heroic barber, and Sandra Milo and Giovanna Ralli, seen in previously mentioned films, were all persuasive in impassioned roles. On final mention, Renzo Rossellini’s music was sparse and haunting, with eerie, atonal elements. Carlo Carlini’s close-ups and angles enhanced the sense of dread and depravity that developed scene by scene.

Kudos to Director, Roberto Rossellini, and kudos to the Museum of Modern Art for mounting this monumental film retrospective and photography exhibit. The remaining films can be viewed at MOMA through December 22, 2006, and the photography display will be exhibited through April 9, 2007.

Ingrid Bergman as Irene Wagner and Kurt Kreuger as Erich Baumann
in La Paura (Fear/Angst, 1954).
Photo courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art

Sandra Milo as Vanina Vanini and Laurent Terzieff as Pietro Missirilli
in Vanina Vanini (1961).
Photo courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art

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