Academic journal article CineAction

Cahiers De (Roberto) Rossellini

Academic journal article CineAction

Cahiers De (Roberto) Rossellini

Article excerpt

You don't think much of Rossellini; you don't, so you tell me, like Viaggio in Italia; and everything seems to be in order. But no; you are not assured enough in your rejection not to sound out the opinion of Rossellinians. They provoke you, worry you, as if you weren't quite easy in your mind about your taste. What a curious attitude! (1)

So opens Jacques Rivertte's "Lettre sur Rossellini," published in 1955 in Cahiers du Cinema. As he implies, the release of Roberto Rossellini's Viaggio in Italia in 1953 sparked an intense debate regarding the future of neorealism, as well as the future of film art in general. Much was said and written condemning Rossellini's latest work, mainly for its departure from neorealist tradition, but it was his supporters who understood the immense significance of Viaggio in Italia and the pivotal role it would play in the development and perception of cinema thereafter. Especially unrelenting in their support were the French film critics, and future New Wave filmmakers, of Cahiers du Cinema. The question is, what prompted their tremendous outpouring of support and praise for the film, while others accused Rossellini of insincerity and incoherence, and, furthermore, why did they hail the film as a cinematic and artistic intellectual masterpiece that would change the future of filmmaking? In examining articles on and interviews with Rossellini that were published in Cahiers in the 1950s by Eric Rohmer (a.k.a. Maurice Scherer), Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and others, it becomes evident that the answer lies in Rossellini's modified approach to cinema. This modified approach remains tied, like his early neorealism, to the environment that surrounds him. However, now Rossellini has become more idiosyncratic, more psychological and more personal, resulting in a deeper and more profound form of realism. The Cahiers writers saw in Viaggio in Italia a new form which provided the freedom for intellectual filmmaking to explore new, complex issues, and that this freedom could bring about the liberation of cinema as a whole.

The neorealism which began with Visconti's Ossessione (1943) and gained recognition with Rossellini's Roma, citta aperta (1945), was, essentially, a reaction against the superficiality and falsehood inherent in most Italian and world cinema in the pre-war period. Originally, it was Zavattini who demanded a new Italian cinema that would reject fabricated narratives and professional actors in order to reveal, "the reality buried under the myths." (2) In describing what he felt was missing in Italian cinema in 1943, Umberto Barbaro coined the term "neorealism", a reference to the French poetic realism of the 1930s, evident in the films of Renoir, Carne, Duvivier and Clair. (3) Especially influential was Renoir's Toni (1934), a film about immigrant labourers, which was shot on location using non-professional actors. The neorealist movement was also heavily influenced by Marxist ideology and Soviet cinema, in that many of those involved were covert Marxists whose social and political motivations were thematically inherent in their films.

In setting out the guidelines in the early issues of Cahiers (est. 1951), there are two basic principles that summarize the progression which the writers sought for cinema. The first principle, one that emerges from the writings of Andre Bazin, the founder of Cahiers, is a shift of emphasis from montage to mise-en-scene; from juxtaposition of shots to juxtaposition of the elements within the shot. The motivation for this shift is that film should allow for emotional and psychological experience to permeate as much as rational intellect does. The second principle, the auteur theory, is one that involves the filmmaker personally; that, as an artistic medium, film is a forum for personal artistic expression of the artist's vision. Stemming from this is the challenge to the commercial nature of postwar films, both in France and the US, that placed excess emphasis on plot and dialogue. …

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